Does Luxury Have To Be Bought?

Happy Sunday everyone, this weekend Adam and I have deep cleaned the house. We made five different lists, one for each space, and we’ve worked HARD. Honestly yesterday we were cleaning solidly for well over 10 hours! We have rearranged furniture, repotted plants, tidied, cleaned, polished, sorted, decluttered and it feels great. Throughout the cleaning process I’ve been considering about how I feel about my possessions and my wardrobe in particular. What things I value and why I value them.

Now I’m sat with a cup of tea and honestly, I’ve got a bone to pick with fast fashion. In my first month of giving up ready-to-wear clothes I have made a conscious effort to consider when I buy clothes and the reasoning behind these purchases. Often I like a shopping trip to cheer myself up or to celebrate a promotion, to purchase a few new items for the next season or just to catch up with friends. Shopping trips like these are normally social occasions or they result in the little emotional purchases that make you feel better. These aren’t too hard to cut out because I can just go do something else with my friends or I can partake in the ultimate endorphin high which is of course fabric shopping . Really the only time I go out or online with the very specific goal of “shopping” is for occasion wear.

In the past, whenever I have had a formal event and don’t know what to wear I hotfooted it on to Missguided or Asos to select something gorgeous, slinky and that could be with me in under three days. Purchasing evening wear like this is of course partly for convenience but also because it has never felt like something I could or should make for myself. When you go to a black tie event you don’t want to feel homemade, when you think of black tie events you think of chic women in Chanel, the idea of a homemade dress in those surroundings is jarring. Or at least this is what the fashion industry has taught us to think. This is how we have been conditioned to feel and it makes me angry because the reality is very different.

On the one hand you have an admittedly expensive designer gown bought in a shop made in one of the standard women’s sizes. Its not shaped to your body, its not designed with you in mind, its designed for their ideal consumer, to reflect their image. On the other hand you have a homemade gown tailored by you for you. You choose the fabric, you choose the pattern, you choose the fit, as garment a home-made evening gown is quintessentially you. If you were to go to a high end event and told people you were wearing a handmade tailored gown they would be impressed, as soon as you mention that the tailor in questions is in fact you that feeling turns to mirth or grudging respect or even worse, requests to make them something similar.

Why should we be made to feel as we aren’t good enough in our me made wardrobes? After all every single piece of clothing is made by somebody, clothes don’t just appear. Honestly, I’m done with it. Of course other people’s opinions don’t really matter if they haven’t got anything nice to say then quite frankly they should shut it but its the fact that this isn’t an isolated one or two people this is an example of social conditioning that is prevalent in books, films, magazines and television, from Cinderella’s homemade dress being torn to shreds to the shopping montage in Pretty Woman. Expensive clothes don’t make a woman and if they do I don’t want to be the kind of woman they make. I will admit there is a joyous sense of giddy luxury in buying yourself something gloriously expensive and decadent but honestly I got the same feeling buying my first proper sewing machine! I get that same feeling when I spend a lot on a dinner for my partner and me, I get that feeling when I book a luxury hotel for a holiday and on those occasions I don’t also receive body-image issues and self-doubt alongside the purchase.

So what am I going to do? You’ve heard the rant, now here is my personal solution. There are two prongs. Firstly, I have reviewed my current evening wear wardrobe and got rid of anything that I don’t absolutely love myself in so if I need a dress super urgently I’ve definitely got something to hand. Secondly, I am aware that occasion wear is a weak area for me because I honestly adore it. So! Last week I bought 2-3m of second hand pale blue satin from a lovely instagram destash account. That fabric has now been stored carefully in my fabric box and I am currently marking appropriate patterns that I own and PDF one’s online that would work with this gorgeous structured mid-weight satin so that if I need a really stunning dress and want something new, I can satisfy those cravings at home and make myself something beautiful tailored and 100% me.

All clothing is made by somebody so my next evening garment might as well be made by me. I will learn a lot by making one and I won’t be contributing to a global system of oppression. Sounds like a win to me!

Sewing Project: Bias Cut Top – My First Attempt At Pattern Matching

My last project before I went away was a bias cut chevron top. This garment falls into the category of a simple yet deceptively difficult make. Now of course there aren’t many difficult techniques of garment construction involved, what makes this difficult is a) pattern matching and b) working on the bias.

Project Details

  • Pattern: Bias Cut Top, GBSB From Stitch To Style
  • Fabric: Daisy Striped Viscose, Rainbow Fabrics Kilburn

Step 1: Pattern Cutting

I kid you not it took me well over an hour to cut these pattern pieces and it was nerve wrecking. The aim of this garment was not only to create a top on the bias to create a chevron pattern from my striped fabric. On top of that, as you will see from the fabric below, I made things even more difficult for myself because my stripes were not even. They are in groups of diffident widths and numbers so matching to an incredibly long time. To pattern match a chevron on the bias you need to cut your pattern pieces at right angles diagonally, and honestly I used my first pattern pieces cut my second to ensure the match. Eventually I gained enough confidence in my matching skills and cut my pieces but it really was a learning curve. Pattern matching is something I’ve avoided for years because I didn’t think I could do it but this garment has increased my confidence and shown me that I shouldn’t be scared of new techniques! Everything is a chance to improve.

3 Things I’ve Learnt About Pattern Matching
  1. It takes TIME. Seriously it took me an hour to cut out my pattern pieces because I spent so long making sure that the stripes lined up. I made things even more difficult for myself than I realised.
  2. Iron your fabric beforehand to make sure that you can match accurately and remember to include your seam allowances.
  3. Transfer your directional markings on to the pattern pieces, it’s such a help when pattern matching on the bias and particularly when you are creating a chevron.

Step 2: Stay Stitch The Neckline

As always an incredibly important step but no less so when working on the bias as you want to make sure that your garment doesn’t warp. At the time I felt like Ihad done this well but afterwards I realised that it wasn’t my best work. This is entirely because I went to fast and allowed the viscose to slip and slide all over the place as it often does. Even more so when working on the bias. In fact this project has made me reflect on how rarely I cut anything on the bias. One of the wonderful things about this project is that it has helped me to understand my fabric better and the literal mechanics of fabric use.

3 Things I’ve Learnt About Working On The Bias
  1. There is a lot more mobility that you think there will be. Even in stiff fabric the bias still provides a lot of stretch so just imagine how I was working with a slippery viscose. I had to handle the fabric incredibly carefully to ensure it didn’t warp as I sewed it.
  2. If you’re pattern matching on the bias use a lot of pins and sew slowly. Louder for everyone at the back. Sew slowly, sew carefully, keep both hands on the fabric and match carefully as you go.
  3. Cut a single layer of fabric at a time and if possible use a rotary cutter and mat, this stops the fabric from shifting or stretching when you cut it.

Step 3: Centre Seams

Take your time matching your front and back centre seams and sew slowly with control. Make sure your machine doesn’t pull the layers of fabric apart at all and continue to check the match as you go. I went so slowly and carefully at the time I had to keep reminding myself to breathe but the sense of relief when I finished sewing and took it over to the iron was unbelievable. Remember to sew the back just as carefully at the front and if you want one tip, especially for matching chevrons, start sewing the seam from the top of the garment down, this makes sure that if anything does move it won’t spoil the finish at the neckline.

Step 4: Shoulder Seams & Side Seams

I forgot to take pictures of these as I went because I was so focused but here they are on the machine. Treat these carefully as you don’t want to warp the shoulder of the garment or stretch the silhouette. Shoulder seams press towards the back so you can include both sides of the seam in the neck bind and in the armhole hem.

Step 5: Bias Binding the Neckline

Now this top contained a lot of firsts for me, I’d never worked on the bias, I’d never done pattern matching and I’ve never really used bias binding let alone made my own. I’ve learnt a lot from this, I’m proud of my first go but it definitely isn’t quite right. When I look at the photo below and the garment itself I can see that I’ve bound the raw edge but not actually bound the neckline, you can’t see the binding which is a mistake. Next time I will definitely be pressing my binding more carefully so that its easier to use.

3 Things I’ve learnt about Bias Binding
  1. You’ve got to treat it gently especially if you’ve made your own and cut it carefully, its got to be even.
  2. Stitch slowly and carefully around the neckline so you don’t stretch it as you bind.
  3. Cut it carefully and iron it out fully before you fold it and then iron in the folds.

Step 6: Finish Raw Edges

The final step is just to finish the arms and bottom hem. Depending on the weight of your fabric you could use a double hem or, as I’ve done, just a quick rolled hem. Then you have your very own bias cut top!

I adore this top and I’m very proud of it but there are definitely a couple of bits I would change if I made it again. The fit is nice but I think the neckline is a little high for my figure so I would make it slightly deeper. My sewing has improved just making this top and I would definitely consider a garment with pattern matching again albeit with caution and careful fabric choice. Let me know what you think in the comments below, love pattern matching, hate it, have certain tricks you use? Tell me everything. Until then, go forth and pattern match!

Box Pleat Skirts – What I’ve Learnt In A Year

Back in April 2019, after four years of living in the south, I found my self missing my sewing machine more than I can explain. With a stressful job and a long commute I felt I was lacking my own mental space. I needed a calming outlet for my stress and something constructive I could do at home. After long discussions with my partner about my stress levels and how we could manage them, we decided it was time to get my sewing machine sent down from Scotland. I had previously thought that this would be impractical and expensive but my mum, presumably glad to get some more space in the new house, happily complied and sent me not only my machine but the rest of my equipment and my sewing books as well.

As to why I didn’t do this much earlier, up to the summer of 2018 my partner and I had lived in shared houses and as we all know, sewing machines are not exactly quiet and I didn’t think it would be fair on my housemates. Fast forward then to April 2019, I had 10 days of leave booked, my sewing machine was ready to go, all I had to do was pick a pattern. And I picked this! A box-pleat skirt from one of the Sewing Bee pattern books. It took me a few weeks because I really wanted to take my time and get it right but on the 19th May 2019 I finally finished my first entirely me-made garment. There are definitely a few things I could have done better but it’s precious to me and despite its flaws I wear it all the time. It’s a work-appropriate length and incredibly light plus the shape given by the box-pleats means the skirt doesn’t flip up in the wind – what’s not to love?

I feel like my sewing has improved a lot since that first make, well I hope it has, but I wanted to do an experiment to measure the difference. To see just how much I have learnt in the last year and a bit. Initially I wondered about aiming for a really complex make to show how far I’ve come but I wanted a direct comparison and I didn’t think just making a more advanced garment would provide that. Instead I decided the best way would be to make the same skirt again and observe the differences. I dug out the pattern again and I chose to make the skirt out of a lightweight navy blue gingham from Rainbow Fabrics Kilburn. The fabric has a good amount of structure to it and it’s opaque while still letting some light through. The big thing I’ve learnt about gingham is that it frays incredibly easily so I used my pinking shears quite a bit and tried to use lots of enclosed seams.

Today’s blog is not going to be a ‘how-to’, instead I want to reflect on the changes in the garment and how I felt making it. I’m going to start with material changes in the garment and move on to the overal changes in how I felt making it.

Material / Physical Changes

I’m so much quicker at cutting and stitching.

This is a big one for me. I remember just pinning the pattern took me about half an hour the first time and cutting it out took even longer. That was because I was so scared to make a single wrong incision, terrfiyed it would ruin the garment from the outset. This time I had this ironed, pinned, cut out and ready to go within 30 minutes. It has to be said I also have much better scissors than I did a year ago but also I’m used to cutting fabric now and in particular I’m used to cutting on carpet which was a challenge for me when I started sewing in this house. The next big step for me will be a cutting mat and a rotary cutter to help me use my slippier fabrics to better effect as I refuse to use my scissors on chiffon.

My pleats are so much neater now.

I mean come on look at those, those box pleats are beautiful if I do say so myself! My first ones are fine, there’s nothing particularly wrong with them but these are gorgeously sharp. Honestly after I had stitched them I just sat and stared at them for a bit because I was so proud.

The lapped zip is actually a lapped zip this time!

Right so it’s still not perfect but its a sight better than last time. The zip is actually covered this time. I wanted to use a shorter zip because I felt the last one was too long but sadly I went too short this time and it requires a bit of a wiggle to put it on. Maybe I’ll make another one in a years time and I’ll finally get the zip completely perfect.

General Changes

I care much less about pattern instructions.

This sounds awful but its true. I promise I do read the pattern instructions but I definitely read them less or perhaps a better way to say this is that I am less worried by the instructions. If it’s a new pattern then of course I will sit down and properly read the instructions before I start just to get the shape of pattern journey in my head. However when I first started I was almost terrified of making micro mistakes or missing anything in the pattern but its because I really didn’t know what I was doing when I started. Now I have a better understanding of sewing techniques and of garment construction, I don’t worry as much about the instructions. Making this skirt is incredibly simple anyway and I didn’t look at the book until it got to the lapped zip stage and then I gave the book a very close reading! Otherwise the next steps of the pattern just seem clear and make sense now and you know what? It feels good. I feel like I have matured into someone who osn’t just following instructions but actually understands what I am doing and that feels like an achievement.

The whole process is much more fun.

The first time I made this skirt, it was pretty much dead silence in my living room, I was really scared that I would make a mistake and wanted my full concentration. Honestly, it was tense! Now I’ve loosened up and that comes down to experience. I know what I’m doing, I can trust my judgement and relax into the rhythm of sewing. I put netflix on or a good radio crime drama and I’ll happily sit and sew for the rest of the day. Making this skirt a second time I was able to revel in the process a lot more. To congratulate myself for little successes like my zip or my frankly knife sharp box pleats. I was able to identify, celebrate and own my successes as micro sewing achievements while recognising that of course I still have a long way to go. I was also able to trust my judgement which enables me to relax and go with the process. Observing what I do, correcting errors before they become mistakes and laughing at any mistakes I make.

What the second make of this skirt taught me is that not only am I technically a better dressmaker than I was 15 months ago but that I am more mature as a person. I am able to laugh at myself, trust my judgement and grow through every garment I make measuring against no one’s standards but my own.

Sewing Project: Shell Top / My First Forays Into Viscose

Hello lovely people, I hope you have had a wonderful weekend so far. Yesterday I hit 300 followers on my Instagram in just under four weeks! If you follow me on Instagram then, thank you! If you don’t then look me up @sowhatifisew . Anyway, on to this weekend’s challenge. As I had hit a little milestone and it was a miserable rainy day, we put a new series on Netflix and I decided to do a one-day sew. After my six month long dress project I needed a little palette cleanser so this project was ideal.

Last week I received a fabric haul from one of my favourite suppliers. They had a massive sale on so I went on a small fabric buying binge and I bought some beautiful fabrics. Not only that but I bought fabrics I was either nervous about using or had never used before. One of those was Viscose. As per usual when I work with a new fabric I spoke to my mum to check if there was a thing special I needed to do and she said that I didn’t need to use anything special but to mind out as the fabric can be slippery. I definitely found this to be the case. Once I got it into the sewing machine it sewed absolutely beautiful but oh my goodness I think I used about a million pins when I was attached the facing as it slips and stretches so easily. I will explain more as we go along but viscose definitely isn’t as scary as I thought it would be.

For this challenge I chose a simple shell top from the British Sewing Bee and used my gorgeous yellow floral viscose from Rainbow Fabrics Kilburn. This fabric has the most stunning drape and although it wasn’t a recommended fabric for this pattern I found that it worked very well. I’m glad that I chose a simple-ish pattern because as I have mentioned above, viscose is tricky to work with and I needed the simplicity to allow me to truly get to grips with the fabric. Also I realised recently that my wardrobe is pretty woeful in terms of tops and this pattern fits me really well so you may see a few more of these creeping into my DIY wardrobe.

Working with viscose is different from step one. Viscose is a little easier to work with if you iron it first so that’s what I did. Easier in comparison to what I shudder to think. When laying it out to be cut I had to enlist my partner, we took an end each, arched them up and laid the fabric down incredibly carefully. It was so slippery that I couldn’t actually manage to do it on my own and I wanted an even cut. Next time I use viscose I will cut with a rotary cutter because you get too much stretch in the fabric with scissors.

First Steps

The first step of this pattern was stay stitching the necklines. Now generally I’m not great at remembering to staystitch but I always do necklines and I’m extremely glad I did in this case. There was a fair amount of stretch in the fabric so I was very careful working with it and used a lot of pins. On that note, I was so impressed with my darts on this top. They are the best darts I’ve ever done and sit really well on my bust when I wear the top. Then it’s a simple stitch together at the shoulder seams.

Facings & Interfacing

I had a problem here as I thought I had lightweight interfacing but I only had medium weight so instead I cut double of the facings from the fabric and stitched them together to stiffen the structure without having to use interfacing. This has worked very well in terms of structure but is a touch bulky. If I was doing it again, I would snip the seams down a little bit more.

The step that confused me the most was pulling the top through the facings once they were stitched. It was incredibly simple in actual fact but it looked impossible. The trick is to feed the back pieces through to the front and then voila! Remember to give it a good press.

Then it’s a case of side and back seams and a hem! I used a hook and eye for the back fastening rather than a rouleau loop and button because I find them easier to use and I couldn’t find a button in the house that felt right for the garment. Then you’re done! It was a full day sew, 10am – 5pm, because viscose takes care and patience and the way I did the facings takes a little more time.

Here is the finished garment! This is a firm favourite and I’m going to make a few of them I think as they are perfect for work and home. I love the pattern so I will definitely make a few more and as they don’t take much fabric I might even be able to get a few more out of my fabric remnants box. Today we are having a friend over for a socially distanced lunch and then Adam and I will watch TV and I’ll do some more mask sewing for my grandparents.

Sewing Project: Pyjama Shorts

This time last year I asked my sisters what they wanted for Christmas and they both asked for pyjamas. My middle sister jokingly asked for ‘Crab Pyjamas’ so I went fabric hunting! I made one pair of brushed cotton monster patterned pyjamas for my eldest sister who lives in the UK but I decided to go with pyjamas shorts for my middle sister as she lives in a Australia. Above is the result! I found the most incredible fabric from Liberty, its so soft and cool to the touch and I love the little crabs so I used this and then bought a t-shirt and applied an appliqué crab patch to the top so they made a matching set. Today I am revisiting this pattern as my eldest sister also wants a pair for her birthday (which was in April but lockdown prevented me from getting elastic!). Here is my lovely cotton from Fabrics Galore, for pyjamas I like a fun and interesting pattern and my sister wanted something space themed.

I’m going to have to do the pattern in two stages not because of time but because I have really struggled to get hold of wide waist elastic during lockdown as all the sewing shops shut and I couldn’t get hold of quite the right size elsewhere online. As these shorts are a present, and lets face it I can’t go and give the shorts to her, I decided to wait for the perfect elastic. This cotton is wonderful to work with and so soft so fingers crossed she likes them!

  • Pattern: Simplicity 1563A
  • Fabric: Black Spaceman Cotton, Fabrics Galore
  • Time to sew: 4-5 hours
  • Pattern Cutting Out & Adjustments

This is a lovely easy pattern to use. I would say that the waist/torso element of the pattern is very very long so I cut that down. Also stupidly the first time I used this pattern I cut it to my size rather than leaving it so I have measured the difference between the current pattern size and the size I want and I have added that measurement at the edge. As I’ve used this pattern quite a few times I didn’t want to pin it so I used some travel books, little city guides actually make really good pattern weights as they are small and flat and slide easily on fabric. I then measured out the difference and used my blue pencil to mark out the new pattern line.

  • Assembly

These shorts are a lovely easy sew, I really took my time and they still only took about two hours to assemble. Straight seams to start with for the leg section and then you turn one leg inside out, slot one leg inside the other right sides together and sew around the u-shape. Then, voila! You have a basic pair of shorts.

  • Buttonholes

I did my first ever machine button holes on this project and it was so much fun. I normally do my button holes by hand but I thought it was about time for me to learn how to use the function on my machine and I’m pleased with the result. They are a bit messy due to the size but they have to be big enough for a large ribbon drawstring. Although I do not recommend using black thread on black fabric for your first button hole as it definitely complicates things and makes it much harder to see what you are doing! I marked my buttonhole length with white tailors pencil which did help a lot.

  • Hemming

I always do the hems on this pattern before I start with the elastic so I can work with the fabric flat rather than distorted. I do a reinforced double hem on the edge of the shorts because pyjamas are worn heavily and need to be able to withstand all the weird stuff we do in our sleep. For the same reason, I do a zigzag stitch up the middle of the centre seam from front to back which reinforces the seam as well as making it sit flat. I then measure the waistband and press the edge down firmly as a guide.

  • Elastic Waist & Drawstring

The most important part of the elastic waist for me is the width of the elastic. For pyjamas you really want a lovely wide elastic for maximum comfort. If its too narrow, the elastic can dig in and make the shorts uncomfortable. In terms of length, I always make the elastic waistband a couple of inches shorter than the waist size so that it fits comfortably with a bit of stretch. When sewing the waistband I take the front off my sewing machine and use the sleeve set-up so I can pull the elastic taught and sew the waistband straight. Then I thread the waist ribbon through normally using a chopstick or similar. I used quite thick grossgrain ribbon which moves well inside the waistband and I leave the ribbon on the spool until it comes out of the otherside of the shorts and I can assess how long I want the ties to be. Honestly I do this bit by eye and then I double fold the end of the ribbon in on itself and stitch a square to secure.

  • Finished!

Then give them a good press with an iron and you’re done! Here they are in all of their glory. I’m pretty proud of these to be honest and I hope my sister loves them.

Sewing Project: Shirt Dress (Pt. 1)

I think that most sewists and dressmakers have one item of clothing or one design that they’ve always wanted to make. One thing that prompted them to start sewing or to take their sewing more seriously. For me it was the inability to find a shirt/blouse that would fit. I have a larger bust, a narrow back and a narrow waist and as I got older I got embarrassed and frustrated that I just couldn’t get a shirt to fit me. Either I had to buy a shirt three sizes too big or risk an embarrassing button based incident. It was a problem at school and still is a problem at work if I’m honest. I had always thought shirts were outside of the realm of sewing possibility for me until I started sewing more often and realised that, whilst there were more techniques at play than in other patterns, a shirt is still made from a sewing pattern.

As I had never been able to get a shirt to fit there is one garment I have always wanted but never had the confidence to buy and that is a shirtdress. That is I didn’t have the confidence until I received my Christmas present from my boyfriend, a wonderful book called ‘Sew Many Dresses, So Little Time by Tanya Whelan’ which contains a series of bodices, skirts and sleeves and enables the sewist to make over 200 different dresses from those combinations. This book also has a fantastic section at the back on pattern adjustments and it was with the aid of this chapter I began to slowly and very carefully adjust the bodice pattern to my own measurements. I really made myself take my time, working slowly and methodically and stopping every time I remotely lost concentration. I then paired my button-down bodice with a three-quarter length sleeve and a full skirt, also with a button-down front. Every single piece of the pattern was altered or drafted by me. I wasn’t sure if the pattern would work in practice as there were so many skills I’d never tried so, as every good dressmaker should, I made a toile of the bodice complete with collar, button tabs, bust darts and a cap sleeve.

Once I made my toile and realised that my pattern might actually work I went fabric hunting and I finally found the perfect fabric. Its a medium weight cotton with painted fish on a black background and I love it. Its got enough structure to make an excellent shirt and it hangs really well in a full skirt.

Fast forward to yesterday when the fabric arrived in the morning and 6 hours of feverish sewing later and I have the outline of my dress! This dress is the first time I’ve ever inserted sleeves, my first self-drafted bodice and I am actually really proud of myself. I used to be really scared of sleeves but they really aren’t that bad, I don’t know what I was worried about! I understand there are more difficult sleeve patterns out there but its reassuring to know that I can insert basic sleeves.

The next stage is to add the collar and then create the buttonholes, add buttons and then hem the skirt and sleeves. It sounds like a lot and I am definitely going to take my time on those elements to make sure the garment comes out perfectly. For now here I am in the shell!