31 December 2011

In 2012, I Intend to Sew.




I’m really enjoying reading other sewing bloggers’ round up posts reflecting on 2011 and things they’ve made over the year. Cor blimey, some of you ladies are productive! And inspiring with it.

Take Debi from My Happy Sewing Place, for example. I used to consider myself a counterpart to Debi - we both started blogging around the same time, she was the first sewing blogger I met in the flesh (and yes, she is as lovely as she seems), and we were pretty much sewing at the same pace for a while. Then all of a sudden she signed up as a weekly contributor to The Sew Weekly - and she was off! This year I made 11 garments (see above). Debi made 58. FIFTY-EIGHT. Not even one a week was enough for Debi, she had to make an extra six. Talk about super woman! (In case you missed it first time, Debi wrote a guest post for my blog sharing her sewing productivity tips.)

Then there’s Patty the Snug Bug. 79 gorgeous makes. SEVENTY-NINE. That’s all I’m going to say. (Seventy-nine!) At the time of writing Jessica Stitchy Witch hasn’t posted a round up of her 2011 makes, but that’s probably because the number of photos is too big for Wordpress to handle. That lady sews. And of course there are the other The Sew Weekly ladies who have been whipping up sartorial delights at a mind blowing rate.

I really want to sew more.

I’ve just come back from a week in Chicago where I spent the holidays with my brother and his gorgeous babies. There’s nothing like a change of scene to give you some perspective, and as I was pondering my new year’s resolutions, I realised that the simpler the better. My general life resolution for 2012 is to have more guilt-free pleasure (the other day someone asked me if I am secretly Catholic - I’m Atheist-Jewish, so I'm not sure where this guilt issue comes from).

Related to that, I have one simple sewing resolution (re-sew-lution, if you will). In 2012, I intend to sew. I’m not going to go down my usual route and create an intricate strategy to increase my sewing productivity with pie charts, lists and ten point plans. Nor do I plan to procrastinate by writing loads of blog posts about productivity (but if anyone fancies writing a guest post for me on their own productivity tips, let me know!). I'm gathering a few inspirational images and patterns I like on Pinterest, but I'm not going to compile any "to make" lists which can add a sense of pressure. I'm just going to sew. For pleasure, recognising the importance that sewing has in my life, enjoying the creative process. And sewing. And making sewing patterns. And sewing them up.

Eeeeeeep! I’m so excited!

Have you made any new year’s resolutions – sewing-related or general life ones? (I’m nosey.) And do you have any productivity tips to spur me on? I’d love to hear them!

[Soundtrack: ‘This Train’ by Sister Rosetta Tharpe]

23 December 2011

The Rewind: My Favourite Posts from 2011

One of my (non-sewing-related) resolutions for the new year is to take more notice of the things that I get done. As a productivity-obsessed crazy lady, whenever I finish a task or project or whenever something good happens to me, I have a tendency to appreciate it for about two seconds before moving on to the next thing on my never-ending to do list. My life has been shaken up a bit recently and in an effort to avoid losing it altogether I've decided to take the advice of some wise friends and sloooooooooow down. But hey, what's slowing down without a strategy?! One of my new schemes is to keep a little notebook by my bed, and every night just before I turn out the light I write down the things I have achieved and the nice things that have happened that day. Taking this time to reflect, collect and appreciate what I've got done has made a real difference to me.

As a blogger, too, by the time I click "publish" I'm already thinking about the next post and very rarely give myself a little pat on the back for the blog posts I've already written. With this in mind, one evening I curled up on the sofa with my favourite tea (Pukka Revitalise, since you ask) and started looking back over what I posted in 2011. Satisfying? Yes. Self-indulgent? Hell, yes. Here are my favourites:

Happy Blogiversary to Meeeeee
Awww... this was a little reflective post one year since I first signed up for my blogger account. I'm a bit embarrassed about some of the things I made in the first few months - not to mention the dodgy growing-out non-hairstyles - but it's all part of the learning process, isn't it?

Sewing Emergency Room
Cripes! Sewing is, like, dangerous! A gentle reminder of why you should never sew when you're tired.

My New Sewing Space
Creating one's first dedicated sewing space is a big milestone in a stitcher's life. Golly! It looks so tidy! It doesn't look anything like that now, believe me.

Refashioned Lace Blouse

It was such fun to be part of The Refashioners project, which set a group of bloggers the mission to upcycle a thrifted garment chosen by Portia.

I Got an Urge to Serge
Hahahahaha! My first encounter with the serger!

A Day in the Life of Tasia, Sewaholic
I get so excited every time an inspiring stitchy business lady writes about their typical day for A Day in the Life. Tasia was the first - it's wonderful to see how her business has progressed in the few months since she wrote this post.

One Week, One Skirt Pattern
How to pack light for a trip to Washington DC. Beignets all week for me.

Sewing Productivity Project
Or, How to Procrastinate Even Further by Producing Pie Charts.

Autumn Maples Skirt
One of my favourite makes. And it works with all those beautiful quilting weight cottons that beckon us with their siren call from the aisles of John Lewis... buy me... buy me...

Has Sewing Changed Your Life?
The answer for many people was a resounding "yes!" The comments readers left on this post helped me write my Clore provocation paper, provocatively titled, 'Creativity in Every Home: What Can the Cultural Sector Learn from Dressmaking Blogs?'

One thing that's clear from this little round up is what a huge contribution my readers make to my blog - through comments, inspiration for posts, interviews, group projects... Thank you so much to everyone who has taken an interest in my little spot on the interweb over the past year. I'm going to give myself a break in 2012 by blogging a little less frequently in order to free up more time to make things... and to make the posts I do write a bit better, hopefully!

How about you - if you have your own blog, have you taken the opportunity to reflect back over what you've published this year, and if so what's your favourite post you've written? I'd love to read it!

Have a lovely festive break, y'all!

[Soundtrack: 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)' by Darlene Love - my all time favourite festive tune!]

17 December 2011

Vintage Fashion on Film... from the Midlands

I'm currently conducting a research project which is taking me around the country visiting regional film archives. In preparation for my interviews, I keep finding myself sucked into the online video section of the archives' websites. Amongst the gems are plenty of movies to keep the vintage fashion enthusiast swooning. I thought you might like to see a few nuggets from the Media Archive for Central England, the last archive I visited. Much of their collection is footage filmed to create TV news compilations, hence the reason the clips are short and silent... so put on your own tunes, put your feet up and enjoy!

Dior Fashions at Ragley Hall, 1959
Behold that tiny cinched in waist and stunning scoop back on the second dress! The models are so elegant - I simply must learn to walk like that... although possibly not practical down Brixton High Street...

Spring Fashion Show, 1961
Oh my! The floral and geometric prints being shown off at this Fabric Fair are just gorgeous! Great Horrockses style, don't you think? Plus some good twirling action to boot.

Jersey Autumn Fashions, 1963
Spot the Jenny Skirt with Suspenders!

Fashion Show, 1956
Loving the cape-sleeved (?!) coat. But again, is it practical to walk around with your elbows sticking out like that?

Fashion Parade at Grand Hotel, Birmingham, 1963
Another great coat here, with an adorable little bow at the waist, fabric covered buttons and cute collar.

Parade of Fashion, 1967
This one should come with a health warning. If you have even the slightest feminist inclination, be prepared to be disturbed by this undies display at the West Midlands Agricultural Show. Yes, "Agricultural Show".

And finally, to cheer us up after that hideousness, a nun sewing And why not.

Anyone got any patterns in their stash similar to the lovely styles showcased in these videos?

[Soundtrack: 'Try a Little Tenderness' by Otis Redding]

9 December 2011

A Day in the Life of Lisa Comfort - Sew Over It

Over the last year or so, it's been exciting to see sewing cafes popping up around the UK, street-level evidence of the rise of sewing culture - hurrah! Lisa Comfort, who thinks that everybody should be able to sew, set up her own venture, Sew Over It, up the road from me in South London earlier this year. Sewing classes, haberdashery shop, cake... sounds bliss, but what's it like to run a business like this? "And what kind of tea does she drink?" you beg. Over to Lisa for this month's A Day in the Life...


"I live in Highbury with my boyfriend Matt, a journalist. We moved here a week before I opened the shop in Clapham. Why, people ask me? Because Matt grew up round here and has a lot of family and friends nearby. Mine are scattered all over so apart from the shop, I had no attachments to Clapham. Although it would be easier to walk to work! Our flat is tiny – we christened it the ‘corridor’, so I feel Sew Over It is more of my home.

Since opening the shop, my days have never been busier. I have never worked such long hours but I have also never been happier.

I spend four days a week in the shop and two days working from home. When working in the shop I aim to get there for 9am. I get up around 7am and try and tip toe around the flat as Matt doesn’t get up until later. I usually put my clothes out the night before so I don’t have to search in the dark for them! I always try to wear something I have made, be it a dress, earrings or a necklace. I think it is important that I am an advertisement of what you can do with sewing!

I love cereal so breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. Then I have a cup of Yorkshire (tea) and off leave the flat around 8am. I have recently bought a little Fiat 500, Lucia I call her, so I drive to work. I hate the tube and this is my luxury. I love driving to work, I put on the Today program and I am in my own little world with no sweaty armpits in my face and grumpy commuters, just a little road rage ☺. The route I go takes me over Tower Bridge and it lifts me every day – such an amazing view.

When I arrive at the shop, Georgie and I clean the shop and get it ready for the day. At 9.30 we sit down and have a cup of tea (Yorkshire of course) and talk about the day. Georgie only started in October and she has been an amazing addition to the Sew Over It team. She is a whizz on photoshop and a very creative machine embroiderer.

I usually teach in the mornings. Our classes start at 10am or sometimes I have private lessons. I love teaching. I find it so rewarding. I also really enjoy getting to know our customers – that’s one of the best things about sewing – you can have a good natter whilst you sew. We can get into discussions about everything from politics, children, relationships and celebrity gossip – all whilst sewing away! At around 11.30am Georgie serves cake and I try to resist, but it’s hard. Our cakes are made locally by the lovely Sandro. They are amazing – my favourite is his carrot and courgette – so moist mmmm……

Our lessons finish at 1pm and then I go upstairs and spend the rest of the afternoon in the shop with Georgie. Lunch is usually a sandwich that I eat whilst writing emails. There isn’t usually time to stop. My afternoons can be very varied. We could be working on our shop display, sewing new products for classes, writing newsletters, scheduling classes and speaking to customers. We are currently working on our online shop, which is a much bigger job than I thought it would be. I am hoping it will be live in the New Year. We will sell sewing kits, patterns and gifts and then fabric eventually. Dominique, who also teaches, is helping me with this. She is a whizz on the camera and Photoshop – whereas I am hopeless. We are also working on a Sew Over It merchandise range – sewing boxes, needle cases, travel kits and more. So excited about seeing the prototypes – it has been great fun designing them.

Georgie leaves at 6pm and I get ready for my evening classes. At the moment I teach on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, although in the New Year I will drop one evening. Our class sizes are always bigger in the evenings so the atmosphere is a little different. I guess there is more of a buzz with larger groups. We have women of all different ages from 20s to 60s but mainly most of our customers are in their 30s. We recently had a guy in one of intro to sewing groups and the rest of the group treated him like a celebrity and cheered when he arrived each week! He was lots of fun and often some great banter to the group and was really good at sewing. I leave Sew Over It soon after the classes finish at 9.30 and head back home in Lucia. I usually only have soup when I get in as it’s quite late. Then I catch up with Matt, check my emails one last time and go to bed around 11.30.

When I work from home my days are more relaxed. I usually go for a swim first thing and have a more leisurely start to the day. I am writing a book at the moment so I am working on that – deadline is looming! Or I do my accounts – far less interesting. I also go to my fabric wholesalers and run errands.

The variety in my days is one of my favourite things about having my own business. No two days are the same. I am never bored and I am constantly learning. I have had to learn basic accounting, and cash flow forecasting. I have learnt how to update my website and how to write press releases amongst many other things.

It’s not all bliss, I am more tired than I have ever been and have a lot less time to see my friends and family. I guess that is the sacrifice you have to make initially. For the first six month I put Sew Over It first in many ways. But now I am trying to find more of a balance and a sustainable way of living. It is very hard when you have your own business not to ever switch off and become a bit of a control freak about it. At first I felt I could never leave the shop in someone else’s hands. But now Domnique looks after it on a Friday and Sunday and she does a great job. This means I can work from home a couple of days a week and have a proper day off as well. Sew Over It is like my baby, but it is still just a job at the end of the day, and I have to keep reminding myself of that.

Someone told me just before I started to set up Sew Over It that to really think about it because once you have a business, that’s it you are tied to it and life will never be the same. It will consume so much of you. She was right and I think it is important to think about that before committing. That would be my piece of advice to thinking of setting up their own business. But for me my life is a lot more fulfilling with Sew Over It in it and I wouldn't change it for the world."


Thanks Lisa! Best of luck growing your business... and writing your book, setting up your online shop, starting your own merchandise line... phew!

1 December 2011

What's On My Sewing Table...

... lots of plans, that's what!

Taking a pattern drafting course is dangerous. It opens up so many possibilities, so many different styles of piecing together fabric, it's enough to send you into a crippling panic. In one day we'll wizz through options for closures, collars and cuffs, and I emerge from my class bursting with ideas, wanting to make EVERYTHING, but not being able to make a decision about where to start. There are simply too many options and I end up doing nothing at all!

So my new strategy is to start with one basic design and build on it gradually to produce a series of variations. I started with a fairly simple bodice for my Refashioned Lace Blouse, which I then adapted into the Teal Button Back Blouse by adding a yoke, puffed sleeves and Peter Pan collar. Next I want to add pintucks to the yoke and try a different collar (TBC - ideas?) and longer sleeves, using a chocolate brown polka dot mystery fabric. I'm then going to add gathers under the bodice and lengthen the blouse into a smock dress, using a lovely blue and white Ikat fabric. I'm hoping this smock will make me look like a Toast model warming her hands on a mug of organic coffee as she gazes at the ocean view from her window. In reality it might just make me look like I'm pregnant, but we'll see.

What's on your sewing table?

[Soundtrack: 'Dinosaur Sex' by Emmy the Great]

26 November 2011

Playing with Patterns: Puff Sleeve Tutorial

Who wants to have some fun with scissors and glue? Even if you don't want to make your own sewing patterns from scratch, it can be useful for a stitcher to have some basic pattern cutting techniques up their sleeve (arf!), in case you want to adapt existing patterns in your stash to create something a little different. So I thought I'd show you how to puff a sleeve

I like a good puff in a sleeve - don't you? I'm going to show you how to puff out the bottom of the sleevelike I did for my teal button back blouse - this style is sometimes called a bishop sleeve, although they often have a more exaggerated shape. If you want to add the puff at the top, just apply the same technique upside down to the top of the pattern. This tutorial will also demonstrate - and hopefully demystify - the "slash n spread" technique, one of the basics of pattern cutting that is useful and easy to pick up.

You will need:

- straight sleeve pattern piece that you know fits both you and the garment you're going to insert it into (I used a block drawn to my measurements, but you can use a sleeve piece from a bought pattern)
- paper
- pencil and pen
- paper scissors
- glue, Scotch tape or pins
- ruler
- curved ruler, vary form or Pattern Master if you have one, otherwise you can get away with using a straight ruler or drawing freehand (ssshh!)
- tape measure

1. Trace the sleeve pattern off onto a new sheet of paper, marking in the shoulder point, grain line and any notches. (NB. You are tracing the stitching line, not the cutting line, which we will mark in later.) The sleeve can be as long or as short as you like - I've ended mine a couple of inches below the elbow. Draw vertical lines up the pattern, dividing it into equal sections (I've done five).

2. Cut along these lines from the bottom upwards, stopping just before you reach the top. This is the "slashing" part. (If you want to puff out the top, cut from the top downwards.)

3. Place the pattern on a new piece of paper, fanning out the pieces to the width you want. This is the "spreading" bit. Glue, tape or pin the pieces down.

4. Draw around the new shape, smoothing the crown and hem into a curved line and squaring the corners off so they're right angles (so the seams will match when you sew them together). You can either retrace the new shape onto a fresh piece of paper or just peel off the spread pieces if they're not stuck down too hard.

5. Add seam allowances and mark the shoulder point, notches and grainline. If you've left the extra ease in at the crown, your notches will have moved, so you need to mark them in the right place to help you set the sleeve into the armhole correctly when it comes to sewing. Measure the position of the notches on the original pattern piece from the armhole upwards - you can measure a curve by standing your tape measure on its side - and transfer these to the new pattern.

6. To make the cuff band, measure the circumference of your arm at the point where the sleeve will end and add 1.5cm ease. If you're making a 3/4 length sleeve, I've found that it's a good idea to measure a little further up your forearm than you want the cuff to lie so you can pull your sleeve up a little if you have a habit of doing that (I know I do). On a new piece of paper, draw a horizontal line to this length. Turn it into a rectangle with the vertical line to the width you want the band to be. Draw a second box adjoined underneath for the inside of the band. Add seam allowances round the edge.

That's it for the pattern play! Interface the band before sewing, and use gather stitch to set the sleeves into the bands as you would with any other gathered piece.

Hope this was useful! If you follow this tutorial, I'd love to know if the instructions were clear (particularly for pattern playing beginners) and I'd love to see what you make!

[Soundtrack: 'The Muse' by Laura Marling]

22 November 2011

Teal Button Back Blouse

Finished! I made this blouse from a self-drafted pattern. I based the bodice pattern on my Refashioned Lace Blouse, but adapted it by:

- making puffed three-quarter length sleeves with cuff bands
- adding a small Peter Pan collar
- including a yoke 
- loosening the fit of the bodice.

The fabric is from a little shop in Brixton market and feels like a sand-washed silk habotai but is probably more like some kind of genius imitation as it only cost £3. In real life it's more of a greeny-teal colour than is showing up on my laptop screen.

I have a feeling this pattern is going to become a wardrobe staple, like the Beignet skirt, of which I've made multiple versions. I simply adore button back blouses. And the style of blouse is so versatile, my head is bursting with ideas for tweaking the pattern to produce lots of different versions...

Do you have a staple pattern that you return to time and again?

[Soundtrack: 'All the King's Men' by Wild Beasts]

16 November 2011

What's On My Sewing Table...

I'm doing the intermediate pattern cutting course at London College of Fashion at the moment, along with Suzy and another lady who reads my blog (hello!). For someone who is used to sitting at a desk all day, the course takes serious brain power and intermediate leg muscles, but it's lots of fun and intensely satisfying to get down and dirty with the scissors and glue on a Saturday. So far we've done fancy intersecting darts for a bodice, tapered trousers and flared trousers (oh yeah). I'm really looking forward to the last week when we get to work on our own design - I've got so many ideas I want to work on, so it'll be quite difficult choosing just one!

Back at home, I'm working on a self-drafted button back blouse. The pattern is an adapted version of the one I made for the Refashioned Lace Blouse, with a looser fit, yoke, puffed sleeves and small Peter Pan collar. You might call it a wearable muslin (sorry, toile) of a blouse I've been wanting to make for ages in a lovely chocolate brown polka dot fabric which I've been saving for the perfect project. I was hoping to have finished this blouse by now but I'm juggling so many different non-sewing projects at the moment that it's taking longer than expected. But isn't that always the way?

What's on your sewing table?

[Soundtrack: 'How to be Invisible' by Kate Bush]

13 November 2011

To Pin or Not To Pin? Your Sewing Tips Unleashed

I loved reading all the sewing tricks submitted as entries to the Pattern Cutting book giveaway. I learnt loads of new ideas - so glad I asked! I also discovered some lovely new (to me) blogs through the process, which is always a bonus. I thought I'd pull together a Top Ten Tips list from your submissions.

I should qualify the term "top" by saying that, firstly, this list is more of a random selection than an official canon or indeed even my favourites - it would be impossible to favour ten of them over any others as they all had value. Secondly, if you're a regular reader you will know that something I particularly value in sewing culture - and the sewing blogs I choose to read - is the attitude that there is no single right way of doing things. So if you don't agree with any of these tips, that's fine! In fact, it was fun to read contradictory tips in the list. "Don't pin!" "Always pin!" "Get on with it!" "Slow it down!" You get the idea.

Right, onto your tips:

1) "Fasten two pens or pencils together with a rubber band when you're tracing patterns from burda magazine as it instantly adds seam allowance without having to draw it in afterwards, just measure the distance between the lines and use that when you stitch the seams - most are 1.0-1.5cm." (Lazystitching)

2) "Tissue paper is a must for the sewing kit. You can lay it down when cutting slippery fabric. Or sandwich it between fabric when sewing seams on slippery or stretchy fabric. It's helped me TONS!" (Jill)

3) "Whenever you have to ease a larger piece of fabric with a smaller one [like sleeves], put the gathered larger piece on the bottom while sewing on the machine. The feed dogs will pull the bottom layer a little bit more than the upper layer, and this will help ease in the fabric." (Heather)

4) "I use washable glue to install my zippers. I get better control when positioning and then I wait for it to dry before sewing." (Carmencita B)

5) "If you are using a serger to sew a seam, the left needle thread is the one that could show through on the right side of the garment. So if you just match the left needle thread to your fabric colour, you can get away with using white or black for the other three threads. This way you don't have to buy four spools of thread for every colour of fabric you sew." (Margiwarg)

6) "Write a review of the pattern (even if you don't want to put it on the internet), as you'll have a good record of what you did with a pattern and how it worked out. This helps to figure out what patterns work for you and your body type and will speed up the process of sewing a pattern a second time if you like it." (Hilde)

7) "When sewing several layers of fabric or an area of thicker fabric, you can use the wheel at the side of your machine instead of the pedal, so you are not making the motor work too hard. It is good for short sections of sewing when you know your machine might struggle." (Kestrel)

8) "When machine sewing oilcloth (right side), stick some masking tape to the bottom of your foot to enable it to glide easily across the surface." (Elisalex)

9) "If you have a overlocker/serger, keep a stock of thread in blendable colours (ivory, grey, rose etc NOT primary colours). You can use these blendable colours quite successfully instead of an exact shade." (Sarah)

And finally...

10) "Listen to other people's sewing experiences, but don't listen to their opinions. And by that I mean, learn from others as much as you can, but once they start saying things like 'slide-fasteners are a pain in the back', 'trousers and bras are the most difficult to sew' or 'knit fabrics are for professionals', it's time to let it go in one ear and out the other. For one thing, it's bound not to be true, and for another thing it's up to you, not other people, to decide your limitations." (Emma)

Too right.

Righto, so who won the Pattern Cutting book, then?

True Random Number Generator  153Powered by RANDOM.ORG

zilredloh said...
Ooooh! What a wonderful book to be able to give away.

Hmmm... favorite sewing trick ehh. I've found that using strips of silk organza underneath invisible (and regular) zippers helps a ton with stability and to prevent warping. They're little strips of amazing. heh
9 November 2011 22:38

Another great tip! Thank you, Liz from zilredloh, and enjoy the book! Woooooooooooo!

Right, today is going to be a good day. I'm juggling so many different projects at the moment but today I'm going to focus on sewing and blogging only (I've glimpsed lots of interesting looking posts in my blog reader that I'm looking forward to reading) and I think I'll channel sewing queen Gertie by staying in my pyjamas as long as possible. Ah bliss! Anyone else got a similar Sunday planned?

[Soundtrack: 'Eternal Flame' by Joan As Police Woman]

9 November 2011

A Day in the Life of Gretchen Hirsch - Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing

Does this woman need an introduction? I doubt there's anyone in internet sewing land who doesn't know - and adore - Gertie. Writing her sewing blog was the start of a whole new, exciting, multifaceted career for this super talented seamstress, so she makes the perfect interviewee for A Day in the Life. "That's all very well, but what does she wear when she's sewing?" you beg. Read on, my friend, read on...


"Hi Tilly and Tilly’s readers! Thank you so much for having me here to write about a day in my life. I’ll admit I was a little daunted by this prospect because it seems that every day is so different! I’ll do my best to try to wrangle my various tasks into something coherent for you to read.

First off, I used to work full time at a “day job.” I was a children’s book editor and worked at some of the big publishing companies. After I started my blog, I began to get lots of other opportunities related to sewing - teaching, writing articles, and even a book deal. I juggled all this with my 9-5 job for quite a while before finally taking the leap to go freelance in March and have a career in the sewing biz. I think the best way to explain all this is to first give you a run-down of all the different ways I bring in income:

1. Blogging. First and foremost, I’m a blogger. The blog doesn’t directly bring in the most money, but I can definitely say that every opportunity I’ve been given has come about because of my blog.

2. Teaching sewing at The Sewing Studio here in New York. I teach group classes once or twice a week, but the majority of my teaching income comes from private lessons. I have a group of regular students and I meet with each of them once a week for two hours, so it’s steady work.

3. Writing. I have a book coming out next year, woo hoo! I also write articles for sewing magazines.

4. Editing and proofreading craft books for STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books on a freelance basis.

5. Teaching sewing online. Earlier this year, I launched my first online course with Craftsy, Sew Retro: the Perfect Fit Bombshell Dress and it’s been a great success! I loved the experience of making that course; it was very gratifying to be able to teach really intricate garment construction. I’ll be filming my next online course in January!

6. Traveling to conferences and events to teach.

7. Selling ad space on my blog. I have an advertising program on my blog, and it brings in a small chunk of my income.

8. Another super exciting thing that I can’t tell you about yet but it’s killing me because I’m the worst at keeping secrets.

So, as you can see, my freelance life involves juggling many different tasks—and I love it that way! Every day is new and exciting, and I don’t feel bored by the endless routine that used to fill me with ennui when I was in the corporate world. (Yes, I’m a touch dramatic at times. My first career choice was Broadway star, but that didn’t quite pan out.)

I live in Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens, New York. I start each weekday by getting up around 9:00, right after my husband leaves for work. I wish I could be more of an early riser. But, well, I’m not. Moving on! I usually spend the mornings working at home. I don’t get dressed or do my hair/makeup until I’m preparing to leave the house. Many people would find this slovenly, I suppose. I had grand ideas of getting dressed every morning and looking fabulous to work at home. But then I figured: what’s the point of working freelance if you can’t do it in your jammies?

Mornings are my “administrative/writing” time. I have coffee in bed with my laptop and check my e-mail. I answer e-mails for a bit, respond to questions on my online course, and work on my book. My two cats are usually nearby. In fact, Henry stays by my side if I’m home (he even follows me into the bathroom) so I never feel lonely.

The book is taking up a lot of my time right now. It’s in the stage of being illustrated and designed, so I work with those folks quite a bit these days. I’ll often have meetings with the illustrator so we can review how things are sewn and what she needs to draw. It’s very hands-on. I’m also working on finalizing all 11 patterns for the book. This means making sure I’ve drafted them correctly, sending them out to a grader, and then having them tested in a variety of sizes. It’s a huge job, and definitely the hardest part of my freelance life. The book is a big, daunting task and I’ve often felt like I’m in over my head with it. But I must forge on! (See? Drama.)

If I’m working on a freelance project, I’ll often spend long-ish hours proofreading or editing. For instance, I’m currently proofreading a book on terrariums (which are rad, by the way) and I’ll work in big chunks of time to get it done by a deadline.

In the afternoons, I usually head to the Sewing Studio in Manhattan. I take the subway and it’s about a 20-30 minute commute. I love not being a part of the rush-hour commute anymore! Sometimes I read or embroider on the train, but usually I just sit and think. It’s quite peaceful, actually. The Sewing Studio has become my office in a sense. I bring my laptop and any patterns or sewing projects I’m working on, and get things done between lessons and classes. I often have a private lesson in the afternoons. Tuesdays I teach late, until about 9:00 pm. Other days I’m home around 6:00 or so.

Fridays I generally work at home all day, and I get stir crazy around 1:00 or 2:00, the time I usually leave for the studio. So I get dressed and run an errand that involves taking a long walk in my neighborhood. Sometimes it’s grocery shopping or going to the post office, but other times it’s something silly like buying a new shade of nail polish.

Oh! You asked about eating. I find my daytime meals very tedious and annoying to deal with. I have cereal or a peanut butter and honey sandwich for breakfast, and then I grab something light for lunch from one of the many places near the Sewing Studio. My husband gets home from work around 6:30, and he usually makes dinner. (Mostly because if I did it, we’d have cheese and crackers or peanut butter sandwiches all the time.) It’s usually something simple with a salad, but on the weekends he makes really extravagant things like delicious stews and banana cream pie! I do the dishes.

Jeff is a writer too and he spends his evenings working on his latest novel. I’ll use this time to write a blog post or work on a sewing project for fun. At around 10:00, we have tea together and chat or watch a sitcom. Jeff goes to bed and I stay up - reading, writing, or sewing - until about 1:00.

On the weekends we sleep late (until 10:30 or so) and then have coffee in bed together. We’ll write or go to the gym, and often I’ll sew for several hours on end. We love to go out to eat on the weekends, or get takeout and stay home in our comfies. (That’s our term for jammie pants and t-shirts.)

All in all, it’s an extremely pleasant existence and I think I’m incredibly lucky to have this life. My favorite parts are the ones when I’m feeling completely inspired, usually when I’m at the beginning of a new idea - a new design or a new subject that I’m compelled to blog about. I also love my interaction with my private students, because we get to know each other so well. They’re all a big part of my life now. I like going to conferences because it feeds my urge to be “on stage” but I’m trying to cut down on traveling in the next year or so, just because I find it a bit stressful. But I’ll definitely go to the big sewing shows because they are so incredibly fun and inspiring.

The hardest part is something that I think a lot of writers and creative types deal with: self-doubt. I go through periods when I’m really affected by a negative comment or don’t feel qualified to write a book or show someone how to make a bias-cut wedding gown. And perhaps I’m not! But there’s no subject I feel more passionately about than fine garment sewing and sharing it with others, and that at least counts for something, right? And, to be honest, I’ve learned the most from critical feedback; it always pushes me to try harder. It also helps that 99% of the interaction I have is with completely lovely, supportive, talented people!

Thank you again for hosting me here, internet friends! And hey - let me know if I can shed any more light on the freelance sewing life."


Phew! I feel exhausted just reading that. No wonder you sleep in late. I bet even your jammies are super stylish though. Thanks, Gertie!

5 November 2011

Musings on Pattern Cutting... and a Giveaway!

"Pattern cutting is a skill through which we are packaging human anatomy, just like designing a package for an object. Many products we purchase nowadays rely on intelligent packaging design for marketing: the iPod, chocolate, shoes, books, perfume and many more. In the same way, designing clothes that fit the human shape well affects marketability, both of the clothes and also of the package within - the wearer.

Imagine you are wrapping a present. Some of the easiest presents to wrap are flat rectangular shapes or cubes, such as CDs, books and diaries. It has always been much more challenging to wrap a gift that is an irregular shape, like a mug or a coffee maker. Under those circumstances, we will automatically go to look for a box...

Body packaging has to cope with a basic principle: human anatomy is an irregular three-dimensional shape. We do not have the option of searching for a box. Pattern cutting is about finding ways to cut fabric so that it wraps neatly around the three-dimensional body in the desired shape."

- Dennic Chunman Lo, Pattern Cutting, p.16

When I read this section in Pattern Cutting, a little lightbulb went off in my head. Ding! It may be obvious, but describing pattern cutting like wrapping an awkwardly-shaped gift sounded like a perfect summary of a process I find quite difficult to explain to people who have no idea of what it involves. I tested this explanation out on my boyfriend the last time he asked, "Er... what is pattern cutting again?" and he understood the concept immediately.

If you're keen to get your hands on this book following my review last week, I bring good tidings! The good people at Laurence King publishers are offering up a copy to one of my blog readers. To be in with a chance of winning, leave a comment below. How about sharing your favourite sewing tip or trick as part of your entry?

The giveaway is now closed
The deadline to enter is Thursday 10th November at midnight GMT. The giveaway is open internationally with shipping included. The winner will be picked by random number generator and announced on Friday 11th November. Don't forget to leave your email if it's not attached to your blogger profile so I can contact you if you win.

Bonne chance!

[Soundtrack: 'Video Games' by Lana Del Rey]