Tag Archive | learning


One of my sewing goals for the foreseeable future was to make something with buttons, well buttonholes really, and I’m a firm believer in using courses, to push me out of my comfort zone and try something new in a controlled environment with an expert teacher on hand to rescue me if I cock things up. So when I saw that Sew Over It were running a course to make the Alex shirt/shirtdress from Lisa’s My Capsule Wardrobe: City Break e-book, I booked myself onto it without delay.

I was shopping my stash, and picked this chambray to work with.

Beautiful chambray with little red green and yellow dots woven in.

This had been hanging around in the stash for far too long. I’d won it in a giveaway three years ago, and in my head it was always going to be a shirt, so it finally had the chance to fulfil its destiny! I wasn’t sure there would be quite enough to make the shirt dress, but I reckoned I could cut it as long as my fabric would allow, and see how it went.

I was at the Clapham shop this time round, and it was a different teacher, Dominique. The course was over two Monday evenings, and as anticipated, the first class was mostly concerned with the preparation, choosing the right size pattern to use, and cutting out. We got going on the first bits of the sewing, and I managed to get as far as having the fronts and back sewn into the yoke, by the end of the first session. The second session whizzed through, with the collar, side seams, sleeves and sleeve insertion, and finally buttonholes. I was really happy that this class gave me the chance to practise using the buttonhole foot, and to work out how to space the buttonholes correctly. I do feel a lot more confident on this now.

The class was really good fun, and it’s always lovely to see how six people can make six very different garments, even though you’re all working on the same pattern.

The only thing I had to do to finish the shirt at home was to slip-stitch the collar down, hem the sleeves and the bottom, and sew on the buttons.

Before doing all that, I had to decide whether it was worth the candle. I had my doubts about the grading of the shoulders and/or sleeve head. Dominique had assured me that this is a drop shoulder shirt, and the yoke extension over my shoulder was right. But I wasn’t convinced. When I got home, I took a few pics to check, and whatever the pattern is *meant* to be, I personally feel like the sleeves bouffe out too much at bicep level, making me look like I’ve got massive man-shoulders. Or at least that I’m boyfriending the shirt of a man with massive man-shoulders.

It wasn’t so bad if I had my arms down, but as soon as I lifted my elbows, I looked like I had huge eighties shoulder pads.

I COULD have undone all my sleeve sewing and redone them, but as I didn’t have enough fabric to recut the sleeves, it would have meant shaving only a tiny bit off to reduce the ease, which wasn’t going to help a great deal. I decided “stuff it!” and kept them as they are, with the proviso that this shirt wasn’t going to be something I wear outside the house. It is therefore now officially a nightshirt, which is good actually, because it’ll come in handy for my summer holiday. It also resolved the issue of whether I would need to shorten it to more of a shirt length, because it’s definitely too short to wear as a dress, but it’s the perfect length for a nightshirt.

Having decided that, I went ahead with the rest of the finishing off work. I had already decided that the buttons were going to be red, green and yellow to match the woven accents in the chambray. Rather than trying to find buttons that would match in style and come in the three different colours I decided to go random, and bought three bags of colour matched buttons in various sizes from Ebay. I picked out eight that were about 12mm across, and sewed them on.


And since I’ve got three bagfuls of buttons left over, I decided to string the yellow ones together to make a bonus necklace.

I might do the same with the red and green ones now

Sew Over It Zoë Dress – the bonkers print

I had promised myself, in the new year, that I was going to treat myself to a Sew Over It course. I’ve heard nothing but good about their courses, and I like Lisa Comfort’s aesthetic. So when I saw the list of new courses, and spotted the Zoë Dress, I felt it was meant to be. I signed right up for it.

It was running over three Thursday evenings. The first session consisted mostly of trying on toiles, working on Fit, and getting the pattern pieces cut and marked. I’d notified SOI of my measurements in advance, because I’m a plus size. The teacher, Julie, had graded a pattern for me in readiness, and we spent quite a bit of time on getting it just right. I can’t tell you how nice it is a) to have somebody else do your pattern grading! and b) to have somebody checking your fitting!

We all brought fabric to work with, and in keeping with my Stashwatch commitment, I shopped my stash. There was really only one piece that fitted the bill, a truly bonkers cotton print, with a sort of Paisley design.

The CD is there to demonstrate the scale. The pattern is mahoosive!

It was a fabric that I’d acquired at a fabric swap. I don’t know who contributed it, but Thank You! It’s fab! It’s a good crisp cotton, easy to work with. I’ve seen it on the FC Fabric Studio website, if I’ve sold you on it. I’d already decided that I wasn’t even going to attempt any pattern matching, and Julie suggested embracing that and going for a full-on asymmetric placement, which was a brilliant suggestion. So my main concern when cutting was to avoid massive boob targets.

The second session involved more actual sewing, including fun with overlockers! I love how much more finished they make your garment. There was more fitting, and learning how to put the in-seam pockets. I’ve never been a big one for pockets, I don’t need them to hold stuff, that’s what handbags are for.  I can take ’em or leave ’em. (Does that mean I have to turn in my sewing blogger card?) So I was thinking they were a bit of an unnecessary extra process, but actually I really like them now. I might even put pockets in other things.

In the final session, we set in the sleeves (or rather a sleeve – we didn’t have time to do both) and we learned about concealed zips. I thought I knew how to do them, because of Gail’s instructions, from when I was going to regular sewing lessons. But Julie has totally changed that, I’m a complete convert to her method. This is the most invisible invisible zip I’ve ever done.  OK OK I’ve only done three… But this is far and away the best I’ve done, ever. The trick is to iron the coils, and to use a concealed zip foot. I tell you, I was straight onto Ebay to find myself one of those babies when I got home.

By the end of session 3, there wasn’t too much left for me to do to complete the dress at home. I had to insert the second sleeve, and neaten those seams, stitch the ends of the facing to the zip and add a hook and eye, and hem the sleeves and the skirt. I finished it on Sunday, and was wearing it to work on Tuesday!

Tada! And here it is…

Behold the asymmetric pattern placement. And the pocketses… 


And that zip! I do realise you can tell where it is because of the pattern placement, but you’ve got to admit, you can’t see the actual zip. 

By the way, I’m wearing a daffodil brooch made by learners on our Supported Learning Textiles courses, to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

What would I do differently next time? Shave a little bit off the shoulder and sleeve head, as I think it could happily come in a centimetre or so and be less gathered. Move the bust darts out a smidge, as they are slightly on the perky side. And maybe a quieter fabric! I’m very happy with how this one works, but maybe something plainer would make more of the pattern lines.

What do I love about this dress? Well I’ve already banged on about the pattern placement, the zip and the pockets. I love this sleeve length – long enough to cover my elbows, short enough not to make me want to push them up. I don’t like having sleeves that cover my wrists.

This is going to be a brilliant springtime dress!

A Blanket Coat, and a lot of overlocker love

With the hibernating sew-jo mentioned in my last post, I decided to kick-start my dressmaking for 2017 by booking myself on a couple of courses. I find that if I have paid good money for something, I will definitely do it.

So I made a coat...

So I made a coat…

I spotted Sew Me Something’s Blanket Coat workshop on Instagram, and I really liked the look of it. I couldn’t quite believe we could make a coat in just three little hours, but Jules assured me it was possible! Never mind that they’re based in Stratford-Upon-Avon, which is over a hundred miles away from Guildford! My trusty Nissan got me there in good time.

All you needed to bring with you was fabric (although if you didn’t have any, the Sew Me Something Emporium was open to us!). Since I am on a Stash diet, I pulled out the black & white wool-mix bouclé which I’d bought in November from the World Famous Man Outside Sainsburys, in Walthamstow. I’d originally thought I’d use it for a jacket, but when you are shopping from stash, you adapt your plans according to what you’ve got available. The wrong side is lovely and soft, as it’s brushed and smooth, compared to the more textured right side. I hope this photo captures the difference between the two sides.

Can you see the soft fleecy wrong side?

Can you see the soft fleecy wrong side?

The cutting took a little while. I found that my fabric was ever so slightly shorter than I needed, but I shortened the length of the pattern by 5cm to be safe, and all was fine. I have to confess, I hadn’t thought about working with the nap of the wrong side of my fabric, but thankfully the pattern layout is all “one way”, and by merest chance, I managed to align my fabric so that the nap strokes downwards throughout. Next time, I would be more aware of that particular aspect.

The construction was done almost entirely on the overlocker. The collar is ingenious, and when the penny dropped about how it worked, it felt very satisfying. It was astonishing how quickly it all came together, but I guess that’s the joy of overlocking – it’s quick. Also, the edges are all finished on the overlocker and there are no fastenings. I’m toying with the idea of adding a great big statement button at the collar, but I think that would only be if I come across a suitably superb button.

I opted for red thread for the overlocking, as you can see. I do love a dramatic contrast. But also, it’s a kind of an homage to the Sherlock overcoat with its red buttonhole!

So warm and toasty

So warm and toasty!

Things I have learned from this workshop:

  • The overlock stitch has a front and a back, so you need to think about which side you want to sew on. You consequently need to be aware of which side you are pinning on. As well as being very careful to pin well away from anywhere that might come into contact with the needles or the blade.
  • I was feeling quite comfortable when using the overlocker. Obviously the small amount of use I had of the one on the dressmaking evening classes I did last year has given me some confidence.
  • I don’t need an overlocker. I don’t need an overlocker. I don’t need an overlocker. I don’t need an overlocker. I really *want* an overlocker…

One of the reasons I was keen to take this workshop is that outerwear is one of my me-made wardrobe gaps. At last I will have a proper coat to take me into Me Made May. It’s also met one of my personal sewing tick-boxes, and it’s a good starting point to build towards sewing a more structured coat or jacket in the future.

Jules is a fab teacher – she walked the tightrope between making sure each of us knew what we were doing, and allowing us to get on with it. There were six of us and each of us came away with a beautiful coat/jacket. The workshop itself was extremely good value for money and I am more than happy to recommend it. Jules will be running the same workshop again on 22nd March and on 29th April. Go! You’ll have fun and make a well funky coat- what’s not to like?


Totally loving it!

Sewing with Knits

Yesterday, while all my sewing friends were at the Sewing Weekender (at least, that’s how it seemed!), I was having my own sewing weekend.

I signed up on Thursday night for the Thrifty Stitcher’s workshop on Sewing with Knits this Saturday. It was an impulse purchase, based mainly on the fact that I had 3m of dark pink double jersey in my stash. The universe conspired to encourage me in this, and I generally tend to go along with what the universe tells me. And let me tell you, the universe wasn’t wrong on this one. I learned SO much.

The teacher was Layla Totah, and I would heartily recommend her classes. She knows so much and was a really giving and generous teacher.

We learned about how grainlines work with stretch fabrics, how massively varied stretch fabrics are, how temperamental they can be with different needles (just because it says it’s a jersey needle, doesn’t mean your jersey with accept it!).

I learned about some excellent gizmos: we were using chalk wheels for marking fabric so I’m definitely getting myself one of those babies. My neighbour on the sewing machines was having difficulty keeping her seam allowances even, and Layla offered her a magnetic seam allowance thingummajig, which also looks like a useful thing.

We learned how to add a neckline binding, and why it’s essential to get the amount of stretch right. We learned how to use a twin needle (and I LOVE it!).

I did a banging neckline binding, both on my practice piece and on my garment.

Here's my practice piece

Here’s my practice piece


And here’s my neckline binding in action on my working project

About that finished garment… We were working with a New Look pattern, 6301, which is a pretty cool pattern, a fake wrap dress- all the benefit of cleavage enhancement, with none of the risk of accidental leg or undies flashing.

NL 6301 wrap dress pattern - I like it a lot

NL 6301 wrap dress pattern – I like it a lot

Layla had graded it for me, beforehand (which meant she was working on it on the Friday night, bless her heart), but there wasn’t any time to do proper toiling and fitting, so it was a case of seeing how it went. And it was all going fine, apparently, until it came to adding the skirt to the bodice. I don’t know how, because it just doesn’t make any sense, I cut the patterns correctly, but somehow my skirt pieces seemed to be way bigger than the bodice pieces, I had to take them in by an inch or so on each side. And then as if that had triggered my project to start playing me up, when I tried it on, the wrap element which had behaved perfectly fine before I added the skirt was pulling the side seams forwards badly, it just wasn’t stretching enough. My personal theory is that it’s a bit like when you try to pull one elastic, it’s good & stretchy, but if you pull ten elastics together, it’s much more difficult. I think the combination of several layers of jersey which wasn’t massively stretchy in the first place, made it stretch even less. It seemed evident to me that my back pieces need to be narrower and my front pieces wider. The pulling was making holes in the fabric at the seams, and while everyone was saying it was ok and wearable, I knew fine well it wasn’t.

I was disappointed, I won’t deny it. The other ladies in the class all had lovely wearable dresses that they were going home with. I kept assuring Layla, who felt dreadful that I wasn’t happy, that it was ok, I’ve learned the skills, I can treat this as a toile, and make the dress again, with changes, so that it works. But it stung!

I think I can salvage a skirt out of it, and practise my new twin needle stitching skills when I hem it. It’s going onto the To Be Fixed pile for now, and we all know by now, that it’ll be a fair while before I get around to fixing it. But it *will* get fixed, I am determined.