Happy Friday Everyone! It’s officially October now (somehow?!) and I have taken my first foray into stretch knits and cosy makes. My companion on this journey was a stunning light grey marl stretch knit from The Makers Merchant. My first purchase from them and I am thoroughly impressed! I would definitely like to revisit them for more fabric purchases in the future and I may explore their haberdashery for the hardware necessary for my Eden Coat.
Core Purpose: Dressmaking Fabrics, Haberdashery and Crafts
Units of Sale for Fabric: 1/2 metre
Formerly Loubodu Fabrics, The Makers Merchant has expanded from just fabrics to a one stop shop for all of your sewing needs. There is a great fabric section, a fab haberdashery and a great pattern section as well. The team have clearly worked hard to create the kind of sewing shop we all wish was just down the road!
They have a wonderful range of fabrics and have a particularly good selection of jerseys, stretch and cosy knits. Fabric is sold by the half metre and while there is a fab selection, I’m not a big fan of their categorisation as you have to choose whether you want to look at plain or patterned fabrics before you can select a fabric type. I think its a case of personal preference in that it depends how you shop for fabric. Personally I don’t often know whether I want plain or patterned fabric until I get there, I prefer to see all the wool or all the kersey on offer and select from there. That being said their selection is very good, clearly curated but not too narrow. In terms of cost they are fairly affordable and do have a good range of prices to suit most pockets. There are cheaper suppliers out there but there are also more expensive ones, The Makers Merchant sit comfortably in the middle as a good allrounder. They do some excellent sales and I would definitely recommend them to beginners, especially if you are looking for your first stretch fabric project as their stretch fabric in particular is often cheaper than other suppliers and they have a good range. Delivery was very affordable at £2.50 for standard posting and was extremely speedy, although when it arrived there was no card or note from the supplier. Not necessary of course and doesn’t damage the experience but its always nice to get one in terms of purchase emotion and brand engagement.
It has to be said in terms of creative design I’m a big fan of the rebrand, I think its a better name and the logo is slick. The fabric photography is excellent and the aesthetic is pristine, the website looks gorgeous. However. There are some significant functionality issues. In terms of the parent site map, I don’t think there are sub pages for each section or if there are then the links in the menu are broken as when I tried to go to the haberdashery pages and look at fastenings I was unable to and it kept directing me back to the homepage, I was also unable to access the About page for the same reason. If there are no subpages that fine but then you shouldn’t be able to click on the subheading e.g. fastenings. Equally their FAQs are almost entirely focussed on the brand change and contain no practical consumer information about deliveries or refunds etc. In some ways I actually found their website worked a lot better on my phone however the payment window wouldn’t load properly so I did end up having to transfer to my laptop and pay in the desktop version.This may be a case of bedding in a new website and fixing but i think it should be addressed as its irritating especially when the actual products they sell are so good.
Range of Fabrics – 8/10
Cost – 7/10
Delivery (Speed / Cost) – 8/10
Ease of Use – 6/10
Ease of Payment – 5/10
Overall Score: 6.8/10
The Makers Merchant is a great shop that gives the online sewist a bit of everything and I can only imagine how nice the physical shop is! Their delivery is speedy and the service excellent. The only thing that bothers me about The Makers Merchant is some of the functionality of the website and the sitemap. The website has a few glitches and the payment interface sometimes struggles on a phone however it’s well worth persevering as the actual fabric and products they stock are of excellent quality and the range of affordable quality fabrics is superb.
As my YouTube subscribers will know, I have just finished making the Amaya Shirt from Made My Wardrobe. Today I am mopping up, resetting my machine and trying to sort some other little projects/alterations/fixes which have been piling up for a while now. However, before I completely forget how I made it I wanted to share my tips, tricks and honest feedback on my making journey for the Amaya Shirt.
Firstly, here it is in all her gorgeous, flute-sleeved glory. Honestly I would never have thought of making this pattern originally, it was very much the case that the fabric came first. I bought this stunning red spot cotton from The Rag Shop with no clue at all what I was going to make with it. For transparency I almost never do that, I’m always very project lead but I thought, you know what? I’ve got to have it. When I posted about it online and asked for recommendations Steph from The Rag Shop got in touch and suggested the Amaya Shirt. I was intrigued and although its a little out of my comfort zone fashion-wise I decided to take the plunge.
It also took me out of my technical sewing comfort zone. My first proper top stitching, my first raglan sleeves, it was all a journey and I really made myself take my time. Especially as I knew that I didn’t have enough fabric to recut if I made a mistake. I’m really glad I took the time, doing only one or two pattern steps a day for a week. It was a lovely way to wind down from work each day and I feel like this is technically one of the best garments I’ve made because I didn’t rush a single step. So my first and biggest piece of advice I can give you is to take your time with this make, there aren’t many steps but they all require accuracy and care. Below I have linked my vlog so you can join me for every step of the sew and you can also see just how many grey jumpers I own as I change between days.
My Top Tips:
Draw The Line For The Front Opening – seriously, do this. I thought I wouldn’t bother but it requires a straight line stitched 4cm in from the edge which is surprisingly hard to do by eye and most machines don’t have markings that go out that far. This was made extra difficult on my fabric as its exceptionally hard to draw a straight line on Swiss Cotton! Regardless draw a solid or dashed line, its worth it for a garment feature that is so front and centre.
Really Press The Centre Front Open – While we talking about the centre front…before you start top stitching you absolutely must press it open thoroughly so that your facing and seam doesn’t bulge when you do the top stitching.
Finish All The Edges As You Go – Cards on the table, I’m straight up awful at finishing raw edges when I sew, honestly just awful, but I really made the effort with this garment partly because i didn’t want fraying but mostly because it actually really helps with the structure and the strength of the seams. I am particularly highlighting this as something you should as you go along because there are quite a few seams you can’t access once the garment is done if you were hoping to have a tidy up at the end. The pattern recommends overlocking but if you don’t have an overlocker then either you can zigzag or you can go on a voyage of discovery with your sewing machine and find out that it actually has four different overlock stitch options. (It’s the dream)
Gather Much Closer To The Neckline Edge Than You Think – Basically if you look at the outside of my garment the bind covers all the gathers, that is quite emphatically not the case on the inside. I did my gathers at the distance recommended by the pattern, or at least i think it did as I work in imperial and it only had metric, but at that distance it was impossible to enclose the gathers properly in the neck binding on both sides. So I would recommend sewing one row in the seam allowance and then other just beyond it. You will still be able to gather and you will be able to enclose both sides in the binding.
Go By Your Measurements – so I looked at the finished pattern measurements and was going to make a size down as they looked huge but when I looked at the body measurements I saw that they actually put me in the 10 bracket. I decided to go with the 10 because I would rather it fit my bust properly and then i could adjust other areas but actually i found it to be a really nice fit. its loose but you actually have enough room to move and the sleeves and bust line are both really flattering. My recommendation would be to pick the pattern based on your bust size and then work from there.
Print Out The Pattern Instructions And Highlight – For me the pattern instructions required a second and even a third reading as I found the prose of the instructions very unclear. That could just be me but if you do have the same issue I would recommend printing them out and highlighting the action areas just for the sake of clarity. The pattern makes a stunning garment but the instructions could be easier to understand.
Use A Fairly Structured Fabric – It really helps with the construction and the fit of this garment. I’m sure you could easily make it out of more slippery fabrics but I think a structured cotton, linen or chambray would be a good starting point for a first make of this garment and would show off its more flattering and exciting features.
Those are my top tips for working with this pattern, its a great pattern and I have worn mine loads since I made it so I would recommend it for all abilities. Check out my sew-a-long vlog below to see how I got on making the Amaya Shirt.
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.
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
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.
Iron your fabric beforehand to make sure that you can match accurately and remember to include your seam allowances.
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
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.
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.
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
You’ve got to treat it gently especially if you’ve made your own and cut it carefully, its got to be even.
Stitch slowly and carefully around the neckline so you don’t stretch it as you bind.
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!
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!
Happy Friday everybody, you know what that means, its review day! This week we are talking about the wonderful fabric retailer Sew Me Sunshine. About a month ago, I bought two beautiful remnants from them and I finally got around to using both of them this week so I thought they should definitely feature next.
Normally I start by talking about the fabric range and quality but this week I am going to launch straight in to tell you how impressed I was by their delivery and packaging. They are the ONLY fabric retailer that I have used so far who has used completely sustainable and non-plastic packaging. My order came in a brown kraft paper bag and inside the order was wrapped in tissue paper. Free with my order I received a cute postcard and a project planning card which I thought was a lovely touch. The delivery was also very speedy considering the current circumstances!
Anyway on to the shop itself. The range of fabrics is excellent, its definitely on the pricier side but the fabrics are excellent quality and worth the money. When I was a complete beginner I wouldn’t have bought fabric there because I wouldn’t have made anything well enough to justify the expensive however as an intermediate sewist their choice of fabrics excites me. As we are in a pandemic and no one’s job is safe I am of course still cost conscious so I was just going to have a nose around the website and not buy anything, that is until I saw that they had a remnants tab. And oh my goodness, what remnants. Normally remnants areas have half a metre of this or a fat quarter of that, but they have a well stocked remnants section and I managed to get two amazing remnants, both about a metre for under £20 including delivery which considering the cost of most of their fabrics I was super impressed with. This week I used both of them for different styles of tops, the first to make my red batwing top and the second to make my new cream shell top (vlog coming out tomorrow!), and I can confirm that the fabrics are as good quality as they seem.
One caveat is that both of my fabrics were types of viscose so I can’t attest to their other choices but I wouldn’t imagine they follow the same high standard. Their range of fabrics is good and they even have technical/outdoor fabrics which I thought was a nice touch. Not a massive selection but its nice to see them there. Fabric is bought by the half metre generally and delivery is a fixed cost of £3 and there is free delivery on orders over £60 a threshold which I personally feel is too high however i do admire their commitment to sustainability. Their website is bright and friendly and invites you in to buy more fabric from them. The web interface is excellent and payment was quick and easy which is all you can ask for really. I would say that I haven’t had the same engagement from them on social media that I’ve had from other brands, however they do have a business hashtag for makers #sewingsunshine where it is possible to win a gift voucher for £20.
Range of Fabrics – 8/10
Cost – 6/10
Delivery – 9/10
Ease of Use – 8/10
Ease of Payment – 8/10
Overall Score: 8.5/10
Overall Sew Me Sunshine are high on my recommended list, the provide a quality service in line with modern approaches to sustainability and they stock an excellent range of fabrics. Their stock is quite costly so approach with caution if you are a beginner and you aren’t sure of your skill level but also definitely raid their sale and remnants section, its well worth it. Sew Me Sunshine are an impressive brand and i love the little personal touches in the delivery and the about section on the website, you really get the impression that Harriet is someone who understands her client base and truly cares about customers. Now I’m off to raid their remnants section before I go on holiday and I will see you guys next week when we will discuss Sew Sew Sew!
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!