6 Tips To Start Sewing: Advice for Beginners

Happy Sunday everyone, bit of a life update, this weekend I am writing to you from Essex! We have come to visit Adam’s family for a few days to get out of the house. For the first time in 5 months I’m somewhere other than our house, but we are still being very careful as I’m asthmatic and have been shielding. I was meant to be flying home on Thursday to see family however due to some moronic Aberdeonian footballers and my mum’s extremely vulnerability to covid, my trip has been cancelled. Adam’s parents invited us here instead and they even picked up us in the car to keep us safe! So Adam and I will be going for lots of walks in the Essex countryside, relaxing and getting some much fresh air.

Recently I’ve engaged with some fantastic makers on Instagram, both complete beginner sewists and very experienced dressmakers. I’ve given and received advice online and found so much inspiration for my sewing and it got me thinking. What would I have wanted to know when I started sewing? I was extremely lucky to have my very talented mum on hand teaching me the basics when I first started and I am still lucky that I can call her whenever I encounter a technique that I find vastly confusing. A lot of people don’t have that resource and there are so many different paths towards sewing, there is no right way as long as you are enjoying yourself thats all the matters. I was really interested to find out what advice others had for beginners and where better to ask than Instagram! I posted a question on my stories and I got loads of wonderful responses from a diverse range of sewists. I have collated their feedback along with thoughts of my own into the 6 tips below. Remember the best way to start sewing is just to go for it. Have fun and don’t feel bound

“Don’t be scared of your machine” – We have seam rippers for a reason

This is a major one because if you’re too scared of making a mistake you won’t enjoy yourself and you won’t progress. Just go for it! One of the wonderful things about sewing is that there are very few mistakes that can’t be fixed especially when you’re a beginner. If you’re worried start your sewing journey with stable fabrics like cotton and then when are happier with your skills you can move on to sloppier fabrics or fabrics that fray easily. Make friends with your seam ripper, you’re going to need it and remember that Even people who have sewed for decades still have t9 unpick things. It’s normal,it’s part of sewing so embrace the mistakes and learn from them. What I’ve learnt even in the last three months is that I need a roatarycutter for slippy fabrics, that you really really should prewash jersey/stretch fabrics and that I need a more ergonomic seam ripper!

If in doubt make a toile and use cheap fabric – “Don’t restrict yourself to pattern difficulty but use cheap fabric first

This was a great reminder that came through on Instagram, don’t just do the things that beginner plastered all over them. Sure it’s definitely a good place to start but don’t limit yourself. If you want to try an advanced pattern but you’re worried take it slow and make a toile. I make all,y toilets from calico because the stability of the fabric allows me to really practice techniques and see what they look like. Embrace your toile, I always use contrasting thread on my toilet so I can see what I’m doing wrong or how a finish looks. It helps to check how neat your stitches are and . As my mum once reminded me, if you’re making a calicotoile you can just write on it if you need to. Whether that’s writing front and back or in my case, right side/ring side when I was struggl with inserting sleeves. Your toile is your canvas to make as many mistakes on as you want. You don’t have to make one every time but if you’re worried it definitely helps.

“Youtube is your friend!” “Don’t be afraid to ask for help”

I chose to include both of these o the same line because they are the same. There is a massive sewing community out there full of experts, talented amateurs and literal dressmaking teachers. I promise someone else will have had the problem you’re having or is asking the same question as you. On my Instagram I always make a point of asking for advice and then reposting any advice I receive to help anyone else who is struggling. There are some wonderful youtube channels and blogs about techniques out there as well as workshops you can book onto in sewing studios across the UK. Videos are great if you want to clarify a technique, workshops are better if you want to learn to make a specific garment, e.g. the bra making workshop I went on in January, or to do a masterclass in garment fitting for example. Studios like The NewCraftHouse do loads of great workshops throughout the year and are well worth a look.

Get an iron – you think you don’t need one much BUT YOU DO

A few people mentioned this one in passing but I really wanted to focus on it. Most people think you only need a sewing machine to start sewing but thats not true, you must have an iron as well. You will use it just as much as your machine if not more sometimes. At the moment I am sewing with a lot of viscose and I honestly couldn’t manage without a hot iron on constant standby. Buy an iron on amazon and if you don’t have space for an ironing board, like me, get a table top ironing board or a reversible cutting mat that you can iron on.

“Pick a project you love and make it something you will actually wear”

This is super important. Don’t just make things because you need something to make, that way demotivation lies. When you having an inspired moment take a second to right a list of garments you’d like to make one day, they don’t have to be specific patterns, they can be things like; maxi dress, wrap skirt, blouse etc… so that when you aren’t sure what to make next you have a point of reference. Also save patterns or garments that you see on instagram to act as inspiration. Make things you are genuinely excited to wear, things you’ve always wanted but could never afford or could never find a version that fit you perfectly. You don’t just have to sew the exact pattern either, you can stick patterns together, remove sleeves, change hems, alter necklines, whatever you feel you need to do to make your perfect garment!

“Just go for it and remember to have fun!”

This piece of advice came from so many people but its also my number one tip. Unless this is your business, relax and have fun. Its a hobby! Don’t beat yourself up about every single mistake, have a laugh, unpick your seams and learn from it. Pick patterns you really want to make and fabric that makes your heart sing the same. Take your time choosing buttons, zips and threads, enjoy haberdashery, want that fabric? buy it. Have a dream garment you want to make? Go for it! Whenever you are feeling down or your sew-jo is lacking try to remember why you sew and crucially why you enjoy sewing. When I’m lacking motivation I like to pick a project I can do in one day, put my hair in a messy bun, get a massive cup of tea and spend the whole day sewing. Whatever you’re sewing remember to have fun and enjoy yourself.

I will keep consolidating information on my instagram so do give me a follow @sowhatifisew and check out my highlights where I always post any technical information. Above all sewing should be fun and relaxing so don’t be too hard on yourself if you’ve only just started. Next week when I get back from holiday I’m going to do a thread on Instagram asking for the stupidest sewing mistakes everyone has ever made so we can all have a laugh and learn from each other. Have a great week everyone and remember to have fun!

Living Without Fast Fashion: Why Do Brands Send You So Many Emails?

It’s a grey, rainy morning in Surrey and I am sat at my desk deleting emails. I know, what a riveting start to a blog post. Since I gave up fast fashion I’ve got to find something to do with my time! The emails I’m deleting are the endless missives from desperate brands with eternal sales trying to make me buy their clothes. I hate to say it but in my weaker moments these emails work on me. I have to delete them without reading them because otherwise I will be knee deep in the French Connection sale before you can say ‘fast fashion’. The emails are a problem, particulary the frequency, but they are not the root, they are entirely symptomatic of the way we consume fashion.

I would argue that in a lot of ways purchasing has been reduced down to pure impulse. Very rarely do we consider what we already own or if we will even wear it, we just get tempting offers with bright ‘girl power’ slogans fired straight into our inbox telling us to treat ourselves. Due to advances in online shopping technology, its entirely possible to go from receiving an email to buying a garment within 5 minutes all on your phone. Of course you can unsubcribe, but often its not about not wanting to receive the emails, its more than most of us don’t even think about them.

What I’ve realised since making a concrete effort to renounce fast fashion is that, the email isn’t just an email. The email gives you permission to browse, it gives you the justification, ‘but there’s a sale on’ or ‘I’ll just look at the new collection’ and then before you know it you’re buying an entire winter wardrobe. It’s often not even about resisting the emails, its about becoming conscious of them and their purpose. It’s absolutely fine if you want to receive the emails and actually use them as a purchasing tool, you do you! But if you are trying not to consume then unsubscribing is the first step and as I do want to give up fast fashion and absolutely refused to be beset by fast fashion brands in my own home, unsubscribing is what I shall be doing.

As I’ve told people about my commitment to give up fast fashion, I’ve had some supportive reactions and some of genuine confusion. Let me get one thing straight, I love shopping and my friends know that. I actually find it relaxing although occasionally irritating when you can’t find jeans that would fit an average human female under 5’4″ with hip bones. Crucially though I like shopping in person, I don’t often buy clothes online and if I do I often regret it. My number one reason for online shopping pre-lockdown was for occasion wear. I’m definitely not an ASOS haul person. It feels dedicant and wasteful to buy that much online without even trying it on and to be honest it feels desperate. Shopping for me is an experience. It’s going out with my mum or my friends, it’s physically going into shops, touching clothes for quality, trying on new things and going out for lunch. Its an occasion. That’s most likely why I find these emails so jarring, they don’t fit with my experience of shopping. For me its not about convenience, if I go for a shopping trip the trip itself is an integral part of the experience. In a lot of ways it makes it easier, if I don’t go into shops, I wont shop, simple.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I am approaching giving up fast fashion as I would with a major life change, holistically. From figuring out my what my own style looks like to literally not budgeting in shopping money, I’m trying to find the ways that fast fashion has permeated my life and how I can make the shift. Removing myself from as many subscription lists are possible is my first prong of attack. As these emails do work on me, its vital that trigger to consume is removed. So here’s my first piece of advice if you’re trying to give up fashion as well, if you’re looking to start giving up fast fashion, start by unsubscribing from your favourite brands. It doesn’t matter if you love them, you can always visit the website of your own volition but remove the email trigger. It’s the same premise as stopping a snack habit by just not buying snacks.

Instead I am directing that urge towards buying fabric and then imposing a fabric limit. I bought a lot at once and now I have a couple of months worth of projects to work on. I am going to celebrate every make and ensure that come September I start making things appropriate to the season so I don’t have to go out and buy a winter wardrobe, another weak point of mine in the shopping calendar.

So after my marathon session of unsubscribing I’m going to make a cup of tea and start some sewing. I’ve got a massive project coming up and I can’t wait to get started. Build that excitement over every make the same way you do for a big purchase. The release is the same you’ve just got to train your brain and remember that no one, no one else will have what you’re wearing if its me-made. See I think that giving up buying fast fashion clothes is the easy part, disengaging with fast fashion culture? Now thats the hard bit.

Sewing Machine Review: John Lewis JL110SE

Last Thursday my beautiful shiny new sewing machine arrived and I had to confront reality. While I had been looking forward to the new garments I would explore with a more advanced machine, I did have a pang of nostalgia when I looked over at my little red sewing machine. Sat next to the almost Sci-Fi sequence frontage of my new machine, it was like looking at a horse and cart next to the Starship Enterprise. Now I wouldn’t say that I regret buying my new machine for one second. No the feeling is more like leaving junior school and starting senior school. It’s not a bad change, its a natural advance but there is still a sense of saying goodbye and it has to be said that I got a little weepy when I boxed up my old red John Lewis model. When I considered how best to process these feelings I hit upon the idea of reviewing the machine I’ve spent so long getting to know. My aim is to provide an honest and hopefully even-handed review highlighting both the positive aspects but also the little irritating things I noticed as a long time user and why I am looking to upgrade.

The first time I saw the red John Lewis JL110SE was in Buchanan Galleries, a huge shopping centre in central Glasgow. My mum had been teaching me to sew at home and I was really starting to enjoy it, to love and be intrigued by sewing. I saw that little red machine and fell totally in love. Next to all the big grown up white machines it looked fun and quirky and friendly. Sewing can be an extremely intimidating world as a beginner, to start with there is a whole language barrier of terms and techniques plus fabrics, patterns and notions the facts that all seem achingly complicated. You look at your ready to wear clothes baffled as to how a person could have actually constructed the grment from scratch. I think that’s why I have such a sense of nostalgia with this machine, I received it for Christmas in 2016 and I basically taught myself to sew with it. It was my friend, albeit one I shouted at a lot and swore at occasionally when my bobbin had run out and I hadn’t noticed. Above all it the was a fantastic machine to learn on as a beginner and that really is where I have to start this review. The JL110SE is the perfect machine for beginners because you can pick it up and start sewing straight away with minimal experience. My machine didn’t even come with a manual and I could still set it up fairly easily. Now that’s not to say that this machine is without its flaws but simple, affordable and easy to use, this machine is the perfect companion for your first forays into sewing.


John Lewis JL110SE

  • Weight 6kg
  • 14 Stitch Options
  • Twin Needle can be used but it doesn’t come with one.
  • Special Edition comes in lots of different colours
  • Comes With: standard and buttonhole foot, seam ripper, spare bobbins and spare needles.

Top 4 Things About This Machine

1. Price

In terms of beginner sewing machines, you really can’t beat this model for price. When I first got mine in 2016, the standard white JL110 was £89 and the special edition was slightly more ( I think £99?) now in 2020 the price has risen to £120 but that is standard across JL110 and JL110SE. A price rise of only £31 in four years is not bad. John Lewis are actively trying to keep this machine accessible for beginners which is to their credit.

2. Reliability

Honestly in 4 years I’ve not encountered a single fault in the machine or encountered any problems that weren’t actually my fault to begin with. I think of mine as old faithful because it just keeps going. If sewing machines were animals this one would be a cart horse. Just plodding along and doing its job for as long as you need it. I would recommend this machine based on its reliability if nothing else.

3. Very Simple & Easy To Use

There are so few options on this machine that it is almost impossible to set it up wrong. The set-up arrows are numbered, there are two dials, one to select your stitch and one to alter stitch length, there is a tab to backstitch and a stitch tension dial with the standard tension settings ringed in a box. Thats it. The bobbin mechanism is simple; to fill you place the bobbin on the winder on top and slide it to the left and use the pedal as standard. Then you place the bobbin in the metal case underneath, pull the thread through and away you go. One of the joys of this machine is that it is so simple and has nothing extra that very little can go wrong.

4. Stitch Selection Is Surprisingly Good

There aren’t too many stitch options, only 14, which is nice because 60+ stitch options can be very intimidating as a beginner and honestly you don’t need them. Even as an advanced sewist you don’t need most of those stitches but as a beginner it can be absolutely baffling. One of the functions I like about this machine is the sliding scale for zig zag stitches and the variety of basic embroidery stitches. So if you want to start experimenting with decorative stitching you have that option but equally the main range of stitches are solid and simple to understand.

Overall this machine is simple to set up, easy to use, affordable and as there’s very little extra functionality there’s very little to go wrong, it really is the perfect beginner machine.

Why Am I Upgrading?

The machine can’t handle heavy fabrics

This isn’t the fault of the machine, it clearly states on the website that this machine is designed for light to medium weight fabric and now I need to be able to do thicker fabrics like denims, tweeds, wool and coating for the autumn so I need a machine that can handle it. This machine just doesn’t have the weight or the power in the motor to get through thicker fabrics but thats okay because its not meant to! It is however one of the top reasons that I have chosen to upgrade.

The 3 Step Buttonhole is genuinely infuriating

Cards on the table, I’m not a fan of buttonholes and this machine doesn’t do anything to help. Put it this way, one of my big priorities with a new machine was a 1-step buttonhole. On the JL110SE Option 1 is meant to be the left hand side of your buttonhole, its a straight forward stitch that you can reverse, Options 2&4 are bar tacks for the top and bottom of the buttonhole, all good so far, its Option 3 that is my greatest bug bear. Option 3 is a backward stitch for the right hand side of your buttonhole. Here’s the thing though, IT ONLY GOES BACKWARDS. If you try to reverse it with the backstitch tab it still only goes backwards and that is honestly infuriating. There is no world in which you dont need to go over your stitches a few times for a buttonhole so why oh why does this function exist? Can you tell this has been on my mind for a while…!

Bobbin thread catch is really unreliable

The bobbin thread sometimes catches absolutely fine but sometimes it takes over 5 minutes to get the bobbin thread to catch when I replace the thread in the bobbin that has started to irritate me somewhat. This is a little thing but it has started to frustrate me alot because I have to spend a long time staring into my machine and it stops me sewing.

You can’t get into the machine if you do need to make repairs or defluff

I didn’t need to do this until recently but it is a valid point. Its extremely difficult to get into this machine to make repairs or clean it. You would need to pay to get it properly surfaced when all you really need is to get into the workings with an old toothbrush and your machine will be good as new. Although of course it is a beginners machine i do feel that this is a little short-sighted and the cynic in me says its because John Lewis want you to pay them to service it for you.

Pedal and power cable connect on the same lead which makes it hard to set up the machine unless you are the perfect distance from power.

This is a moan for me because I live in a house where the power points were located by a complete idiot. We have loads of plug sockets but they are all in moronic places so this was a problem for me. The fact that the pedal and plug come out of the same lead means that I’ve had a few issues on finding somewhere that my machine can actually get power and I can use the pedal.

Overall I need the ability to do heavier weight fabrics and to move on with my sewing. This is at the end of the day a beginner’s machine and I think when you start to notice flaws like this and start to have a preference on mechanism and functionality then you need to upgrade because you’re not a learner anymore. You might still have green P plates on but you’ve passed into intermediate and need a machine that can keep up.

Does It Stand The Test Of Time?

Yes it does. This little machine is a great companion for your first forays into sewing because so little can go wrong and its just so simple and easy. It will allow you to learn about sewing and crucially to learn how you sew and what you need. When I first started to work on projects that my machine struggled with, I told myself that I wasn’t allowed to upgrade until I actually understood what I needed from a machine. This machine allows you to learn, you can’t become reliant on automatic functions because it doesn’t have any and it makes you a better sewist as a result. The JL110SE may be thoroughly out classed by my new machine but it will always have a special place in my heart as my first sewing machine.

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.

Envelope Pillow: A How To Guide For My First Home Make

Today’s project is a little different to my usual sewing projects and its actually my first ever home make! I have officially welcomed the envelope pillow into my repertoire. My partner’s mum bought us some towels and a beautiful throw so I wanted to make something nice for her and I decided on a throw pillow. She actually gave me some beautiful homefurnishing fabric that she bought when she was redoing their house. She loved the fabric but wasn’t sure what to use it for so I thought I would make her an envelope pillow.

Envelope pillows are a really simple make, it took me an hour maybe an hour and a half at most. The longest part was waiting for the pad to arrive! I didn’t use a pattern, I just took measurements and went with it. Its honestly the easiest make and I would encourage anyone, particularly beginners to have a go.

Step 1 – Measure Up

Select the size of pillow you want to make. Either choose a pillow pad or measure an existing one if you looking to refresh an existing cushion. Take the measurement of the length and width of the pillow with a cloth measuring tape and ensure to measure including the curve of the pillow. Then add an inch at both ends of each measurement and mark out your square or rectangle on your fabric with tailors chalk.

Step 2 – Cut Your Three Pieces

When cutting upholstery or home-furnishing fabric I tend to use pinking shears as they have a bit more bite and stop fraying. To make the pillow you need three pieces.

  • 1 x square (or rectangle) to the measurements from above.
  • 2 x rectangular pieces the same width and approximately two thirds the length of the main square with at least a 4cm overlap.

To ensure the pieces fit lay them carefully on top of each other as you will sew them and make sure the outside edges match.

Step 3 – Finish the Envelope Edges

In order to create a nice finish on your pillow you are going to want to finish the two overlapping edges on the back. To finish the edges fold it over by 1/8inch and stitch and then do the same again.

Step 4 – Pin Together and Sew

Pin the pieces right side together and stitch along the outside edge with 1/2 inch seam allowance. Stitch continuously around the square and then press.

Step 5 – Clip Corners and Turn Out

Finally clip the corners and turn right side out. I turned my corners out using a biro with its lid on but a knitting needle, chopstick or anything else with a blunt point will do. Press once more and then voila, you’re done!

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.

Lockdown Sewing: Making My Own Face Mask

There has been one sewing trend that has been sweeping the UK since lockdown. Since there was a PPE shortage in March and lots of sewists stuck at home Patrick Grant, of Sewing Bee fame, decided to galvanise us all into action with The Big Community Sew, an online platform containing advice and instructions for making your own facemasks at home as well as two different patterns. Its a fantastic community resource and means that those of us with fabric and sewing machines at home can make masks for those who can’t get one.

A lot of people will be reading my post and wondering why it has taken me four months of lockdown to make my own mask. The answer is two-fold. Firstly I am quite badly asthmatic so I have been shielding as far as possible and therefore haven’t actually needed a mask. When I go for walks in the countryside I stay far away from people and my partner goes to the shops/chemists if we need anything, otherwise, we get our shopping online. The second reason is my asthma. Masks are incredibly effective and if you can wear one, particularly on public transport or in closed spaces, PLEASE DO. However for most people with respiratory problems face masks can exacerbate their condition and cause further breathlessness and in some cases can significantly increase your risk of an asthma attack. I can manage a mask for about an hour maximum before I get very breathless and have to take it off. Until now I wasn’t going to bother making a mask as I am medically exempt from wearing one however I decided that it would still be a very useful thing to have for emergencies or short journeys and my partner definitely needs one as he goes out to the shops and interacts with more people. I though therefore as a fun sewing challenge I would try both patterns from The Big Community Sew and see how I got on.

Version 1 – Pleated Mask

So the first thing to be aware of here is that somehow, and I honestly do not know how, I accidentally used inches instead of centimetres. Literally looking back I did every step of this wrong but somehow I still created a basic mask and although it’s far too big for me it does actually fit Adam rather well. It was a good practice opportunity though!

Version 2 – Pleated Mask

This worked much better although the pattern is a little bit small and I could still do to enlarge it slightly to fit my partner’s face better. One thing I would highlight is that you need a very hot iron to iron to flatten the double sided rectangle otherwise its too bulky and hard to get the pleats to stay. Otherwise its an incredibly easy sew. You don’t even really need a machine if you are an accomplished hand-sewist. It pretty much fits Adam and doesn’t fall off when he talks and sits with minimal adjustment. I would say that this pattern gives you a lot more flexibility in terms of size.

Version 1 – Shaped Mask

This was definitely the most comfortable design and fits my face really well however I would say that it makes quite a small, neat mask so if you have a bigger face / head or a prominent nose, for example, I would enlarge the pattern to allow you the space to talk without the mask moving around. I originally made this mask for my boyfriend but unfortunately, it didn’t fit his face so I made him the pleated mask instead. Stupidly I sewed this the wrong way around originally with the right side in. This is because the pattern instructions were not incredibly clear so for the sake of clarity, start the pattern right side to right side and it will turn out the same way. Also its really hard to press open the seam curve but worth doing as the mask sits so much more comfortably and fits the face better. I will definitely be making another version of this mask for Adam so I will see how I get on enlarging the pattern.

Here I am in my shaped mask covered in Spacemen, I don’t know if I will get used to only seeing people’s eyes but for now, we can at least make the masks look fun! I know that I am by no means to only one who has made their own face mask so do let me know how you got on. What fabrics have worked well for you? Have you successfully enlarged the shaped mask pattern? If so, please let me know if you have any tips!

Sewing Essentials For Beginners

Sewing can be a mystifying world, the language, the equipment and even the space required can feel like a barrier. Today I want to talk you through my essential sewing equipment and talk about starting.

Sewing is an interesting hobby as while most of us start with the same basic ingredients it is possible to create wildly different garments or create the same effect using entirely different techniques. The world of sewing is awash with hacks, tricks and tips for all levels of sewers. On top of that everyone’s sewing space looks different. Some people have a room to themselves some people make do with the Kitchen table. Even the language of sewing can be mystifying to a beginner so below I have unnumerated my basic essentials and what I work with on a daily basis. What is important is there is no one single formula for sewing.

If you are still look at me going, “yes but where do I start?”, I have listed what I consider to be my sewing box essentials that I can’t do anything without. Over the years I have built up my own equipment store purely based on things I actually like using and make me better rather than panic buying fancy equipment that I wont ever feel confident using.

  • Sewing Machine (Obviously)

This is my little red sewing machine, a John Lewis JL110SE, bought in 2015. Until then I used my mum’s Janome machine. I am currently saving up for a new one next year as this one won’t really do denim or thick fabrics such as wool. However this machine is an ideal starting place as it will do about 90% of the things you need it to do as an experienced sewer and 100% of the things you need to do as a beginner. Honestly I wouldn’t be thinking about getting a new machine but I used one of the Pfaff Quilting Machines on a sewing course and I fell in love and would now like a machine with some of the automatic features.

  • Quick Unpick

The dressmaker’s best friend! Apart from a needle and a sewing machine the quick unpick allows you to fix all of your mistake and re-do a technique again and again until you get it right. A quick unpick costs almost nothing but I don’t think I have gone a single day without using one since I started sewing, which may be an indictment of my sewing more than anything. Its one of the more wonderful things about sewing that you can fix your mistakes pretty easily in most cases.

  • Dressmaking Pins & Pin Cushion

Here is my gorgeous little pin cushion that my mum got me when i first started sewing. One of my favourite things about it is that has a band underneath so I can wear it on my wrist while I’m pinning. Especially good when working on something big or on mannequins. In terms of pins everyone is different. Some people use pins when cutting out patterns, some pattern people just use pattern weights but pins are nearly always used for seams, hems and fabric to fabric work. The only time I’ve not used pins was when making a bra because the fabrics are so fine, fiddly and sheer that you don’t want to make any holes.

  • Tailors Chalk / Pencils

Everyone transfers marks from patterns differently. Personally I favour dressmaking pencils, can you tell which one I use more? I transfer marks through with these on the wrong side of the fabric and then they wash off afterwards which is great. For fabrics that you don’t want to draw on you can use a pattern wheel which is a little spikey wheel, that looks a bit like a cowboy’s book spur, but allows you to imprint lines such as darts on to the fabric without drawing or marking it in any other way. The usefulness of this will depend on the fabric you are using but I found it helpful on lighter fabrics. The pencils have been with me for a lot longer and are definitely my favourite method.

  • Fabric Scissors

In the context of sewing, I really don’t think its possible to have too many pairs of scissors. I have a weird love for sewing scissors because they are just so sharp and effective and there are so many different types. Below is my current collection of scissors including pinking shears, fabric scissors, regular scissors and embroidery scissors and a small Stanley knife for button holes and very fiddly cutting out.

  • Steam Iron

I wont insult you with a picture of an iron because hopefully you all know what a steam iron looks like. I hate that this has to be on the list as I’m an extremely lazy ironer but ironing is absolutely central to sewing. Ironing at every single stage of the process is vital so you have to make sure you have a good iron to hand. My iron is slightly terrible so I will be purchasing a new one as soon as I can! (Any recommendations please put in the comments below)

These are the most basic but essential items that are central to sewing if you’re looking for a beginners list of equipment. What’s in your sewing essentials toolkit?