31 January 2011

Fancy Moon Fabric Giveaway WINNER!

Wow, thanks to everyone who entered the Fancy Moon fabric giveaway. There was clearly a lot of enthusiasm for the drool-worth selection of fabrics on their website. The winner of 2 metres of fabric of their choice is...

True Random Number Generator  
117Powered by RANDOM.ORG

... Liz from Liz makes it!

French Post

Woop!!! Liz, I'll be in touch by email to arrange delivery of the goodies. Enjoy - looking forward to see what you make with it!

30 January 2011

Cutting out the right size pattern

When you cut out a pattern, how do you decide which size to go for? We all come in different shapes and sizes (is that a line from a Paul McCartney song or I have I made that up?) so it's unlikely you'll exactly match one standard pattern size. Moreover, most commercial pattern sizes come up large so their sizing chart can be misleading. In the past I've operated a trial and error policy, but for my Joan Holloway dress (aka V8413 - yes! I'm finally making it!) I thought I'd try a more systematic approach - measuring the pattern pieces and comparing them to my body measurements. I'm documenting it here to remind myself what I did, but hopefully you may find it useful too!

I start by taking my measurements - bust, waist, hips and back length. I tend to do this after lunch and practise Pranayama breathing to ensure I'm not going to suffocate in my finished garment!

If I believed the size chart on the back of the pattern, I'd think I was somewhere between a size 10 and 14. But I know that most commercial patterns come up large (just look at the frumpy illustrations!), so I start lower, with a size 8. If, like me, different parts of your body fall into different size columns, it's advisable to pick the right bust size as the other bits are easier to adjust.

What I do next is measure all the pattern pieces across the bust, waist and hip lines. These lines are usually indicated on the pattern pieces, either in writing or with a cross inside a circle. Then I subtract the seam allowances (usually 5/8" - it'll say on your pattern) and fabric folds (darts, pleats etc). My workings for the size 8 pattern are as follows:

- Front bodice piece (cut 1): 20.25" minus 2 x 5/8" seams = 19"
- Back bodice piece (cut 2): (10" minus 5/8" seam minus 5/8" zipper seam = 8.75") x 2 pieces = 17.5"
TOTAL = 36.5"

- Front bodice piece (cut 1): 14.25" minus 2 x 5/8" seams = 13"
- Back bodice piece (cut 2): (8.5" minus 5/8" seam minus 5/8" zipper seam minus 1" dart = 6.25") x 2 = 12.5"
TOTAL = 25.5"

- Skirt front (cut 1 on fold): (10.5" x 2) minus 2 x 5/8" seam allowances minus 2 x 1" pleats= 17.75"
- Skirt back (cut 2): (10.5" minus 2 x 5/8" seam allowances = 9.25") x 2 = 18.5"
TOTAL = 36.25"

Let's compare results:

Pattern size chart: 31.5" / 24" / 33.5"
Pattern piece measurements: 36.5" / 25.5" / 36.25"
My measurements: 33" / 26.5" / 37.25"

Now, I'm making my dress in a double knit jersey - for stretchy fabrics you don't need to add ease so I'm going to choose a close fitting size. If you're using a woven fabric, you'll want to add a little ease - it's up to you how close fitting you want it to be, and will depend on the type of garment you're making (ooh la la cocktail dress or a skirt you want to be able to run for the bus in?). You can add an inch or two here and there to accommodate breathing, sitting down etc.

Notice there is a 5" difference between the bust size on the chart and the pattern pieces. The pattern I'm using has a cowl neckline so the bust line will be loose fitting. 3.5" of cowl-ness sounds about right, so I'm going to go with a size 8 bust - and if it turns out to be too big, I can always take in the side seams later.

My waist and hips are 1" bigger than the pattern, so I'm going to cut these parts of the pattern one size larger. I mark a diagonal line in red from the size 8 bust line to the size 10 waist line - this will be my new cutting line for the bodice pieces. For the skirt pieces, I'll just cut out a size 10.

The bottom of the pattern indicates that the back length of the size 8, from the nape of your neck to the hem line, is 38.75" (watch out though, because back length can also mean nape to waist). As I'm little, I want mine to be 38", so I need to shorten the length by 3/4". I know that I have a smaller than average torso, so I'm going to shorten the length of the bodice. There is a line on the front and back bodice pieces which says "lengthen or shorten here". I fold over and tape the pattern paper to get rid of the excess length. Next I'll smooth out this disjointed line to create the new cutting line.

Now I'm ready to cut out my fabric. I often make a muslin version in Swedish tracing paper, but as I'm using double knit, which drapes in its own peculiar way, I'll just pin or baste the pieces together to check the fitting before stitching.

I hope that made sense... and I hope my calculations were correct! If in doubt, cut large. But if you can cut out the right size from the start, it's going to make your life a lot easier!

28 January 2011

Friday Finds no.6

Hello everyone, I hope your week is going well. The photo above is of some cards I ordered for my blog. Now I have something more stylish that a bit of scrap paper to give anyone who asks for the URL. £10 from Moo - not bad, eh? Do you have cards for your blog?

Here's my pick of the blogosphere this week:

- I was sorry to hear that Aunt Bea's Fabrics have decided to close. They are having an amazing closing down sale though, for any vultures out there (if there's anything left after what I ordered).

- Quincy shared a drool-worthy video of Lena Hoschek's catwalk show. I want it all.

- Sherry put together a tutorial on drafting a lining for a shift dress

- Carly compiled a useful list of online fabric stores in the UK

- Colette Patterns are on fire this week with a stunning decorative cording tutorial, a new stitchers forum, Spring palette challenge and an undies photo shoot that makes me want to repaint my life in maroon, peach and turquoise

- Nette made a stop motion animation documenting the process of making her felt house sewing box - too cute!

- The ever stylish Sally Jane Vintage has resolved to make some of her own dresses this year - hurrah!

Bon weekend, tout le monde! x

[Soundtrack: 'Bring It On Home To Me' by Sam Cooke]

26 January 2011

Fancy Moon Fabric GIVEAWAY!

Ooh do I have a great giveaway for you! The lovely people at Fancy Moon are offering one of my blog readers 2 metres of any fabric from their collection. And what a collection. Here are just a few of my favourites...

Blue Bell
Alexander Henry Blue Bell cotton lawn

Eton Butterfly Cream
Alexander Henry Eton Butterfly cotton lawn

French Post
Michael Miller French Post cotton

Avedon Stripe
Alexander Henry Avedon Stripe cotton

Woodland Dark Brown
Etsuko Furuya Woodland cotton/linen blend

Candy Flowers
Candy Flowers cotton gauze

Imperial Kiku Grey
Alexander Henry Imperial Kiku cotton

Shelburne Circus People
Shelburne Circus People cotton

Flap Border Turquoise
Etsuko Furuya Flap Border cotton/linen blend

Regent Peacock
Alexander Henry Regent Peacock cotton lawn

I could go on...

To enter, take a look at the Fancy Moon website, have a browse of their lovely collection and leave a comment on my blog (below) saying which fabric you'd pick if you win. Don't forget to include your email if it's not available through your Blogger profile so I can let you know if you win! The giveaway is open worldwide.

The deadline to enter is midnight GMT on Sunday 30th January. The winner will be picked at random and notified on Monday.

Good luck!

23 January 2011

A Dazzlingly Red Beignet

It's official. I'm in love with this pattern. It's such a delight to make. Easy to get the fit right. Extremely versatile (see my denim version* and other stitchers' projects). Oh so comfortable. And it looks pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.

The only tricky part was attaching the lining to the facing, which involves pinning a convex curve to a concave curve going the other way... wait, no, was it two convex curves...? My brain hurts just thinking about it. In any case, you could always omit the lining if you want an easy project.

I used bright red gabardine (yes, it really is that bright in real life!) leftover from the Hollywood Starlet dress, peppermint lining left over from the Betty Draper Suit, and red cotton poplin from my stash for the facings. You might recognise the bow belt as one I made earlier... or if you haven't seen it before, here's a tutorial if you want to make your own. And I already had the pattern so the only money I spent was on the self-cover buttons. Bargain!

* Oh that reminds me! The other day someone called my denim version "a Chloe rip off". Now, I don't know who this Chloe character is and what she thinks she's playing at, but she's clearly ripped me off, not the other way round!

[Soundtrack: 'Lonely Weekends' by Charlie Rich]

21 January 2011

Friday Finds no.5

Hello everyone, I hope you're having a good week. You'll be pleased to know I finally took my serger out of its box! And read the instructions! Hopefully I'll have something to show for it soon...

In the meantime, here's what's been taking my fancy this week:

- Penny Dreadful shared an enchanting collection of images of ladies' dressing tables

- Debi made an incredibly beautiful 1930s dress and jacket

- Patty has inspired me to think about border print Spring dresses with her Parfait dress, which has pretty decorative top stitching to boot

- And more decorative stitching - check out Sherry's stylish 1960s shift dress

- While we're on the subject of 1960s gorgeousness, Jacki wrote a great post highlighting the details that make vintage designs so swoonsome

- Eva Dress has announced a super exciting sewing contest using their vintage patterns - can't wait to see everyone's entries!

Happy Friday, one and all!

19 January 2011

Stash Amnesty! featuring Karen aka Did You Make That?

It's Stash Amnesty! time again, when we get to take a sneaky peek at another blogger's sewing stash. This month I interview the lovely Karen, aka Did You Make That?, a fellow Londoner who I've had the pleasure of meeting not once, but twice! Karen is a productive and inspiring stitcher whose posts always make me chuckle. Let's find out a bit more about her...

When and how did you learn to sew?

Karen: "My first encounters with a sewing machine were in my childhood home. Mum had a sewing machine in a corner of the living room. (I now have a sewing machine in the corner of the living room!) I was about ten when Mum first started teaching me how to use the machine. I definitely remember being left to my own devices once I’d gained confidence. Looking back, I very much admire the fact that my mum would let me get on with things. Would today’s children be let loose with expensive machines and sharp needles?! Part of me hopes so.

My more formal sewing lessons started at secondary school. (Boys did woodwork, girls did sewing.) Each of us girls had to make a paisley print apron for home economics. After that we were allowed to make something of our own choice, and I distinctly remember making a drop waist skirt in purple cotton with a small white print. I had to persuade my mum to buy the fabric as it wasn’t cheap. (From John Lewis, I believe. God, were we made of money? Answer: no.) Because of the cost of materials, Mum forced me to finish the dress even after the end of term. I never wore it! Isn’t that a shame?

My memories of school sewing lessons are of the over-weaning draconian, censorious, insistent, bullying RULES of the teachers. Thou shalt not sew over pins, thou shalt always baste first. Even as a teenager, I kept thinking, ‘Does it really have to be this … rigid?’ I did enjoy sewing, but jeez – those nuns worked hard to drive every last drop of pleasure out of the sewing experience."

Talk us through some of your favourite things in your stash...

Karen: "A crafting friend gave me a small collection of cotton fabrics and ribbons last year for my 40th birthday. At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure what I could do with them, but they’ve been a godsend for little quilting projects or if I just need to add a bit of decoration to something. Each and every time I pull out those ever dwindling scraps I think of my friend, of my 40th birthday party, and smile. An entirely unexpected gift and one that has proved not only useful but a beautiful aide-memoire to happy times.

I also have some fabric and covered buttons that I bought from the V&A Quilts exhibition last summer. I still haven’t properly used the fabric. It feels a tragic shame for this 19th century ‘seed head’ design to be languishing in my stash box. I really must find a project to show this turquoise cotton off to its best advantage."

Do you tend to hoard fabric or use it up quickly?

Karen: "I’m not a big fabric hoarder. As with my knitting, I only buy supplies once I have a make in mind. With Walthamstow market on my doorstop, I have no practical need to stock up ahead of the game. I have one plastic box for clothes making fabric and a recently acquired wicker basket (rescued from a Christmas food hamper!) that I’m using to put aside fabrics for quilting projects."

Go on then, tell us about Walthamstow market!

Karen: "Sewing significantly changed my relationship with the area I’ve lived in for the past ten years. I’d never taken much notice of our chaotic market in E17 (the East End of London), until I needed sewing supplies. Then my eyes were opened to the stalls with ever changing bolts of fabric and dazzlingly cheap notions. I love the market and any visit to my blog will brainwash readers into loving it vicariously. I’m not saying it’s perfect – sometimes you get what you pay for – but as a novice sewer it’s often been a life saver to jump on my bike and race to buy an extra metre of something.

I also buy fabric from Ebay and recently I purchased from the Ditto website. One of my early fabric purchases was from Tessuti in Australia, which doesn’t make much sense when I live in London. Definitely a case of over-excited novice buying! That fabric was expensive, burnt up air miles and … languishes in the bottom of my stash box. Tessuti is wonderful, but it’s a long way away and Walthamstow market is only just down the road.

I have a group sewing trip around Walthamstow market planned for Saturday 19 February, and it’s looking like it’s going to be a great day out! Details on my blog."

Do you have a dedicated sewing area?

Karen: "My dedicated sewing area is a corner of the living room. In the summer, it’s lovely to throw the sash window open and have flowers from the window sill pot watching me sew. Sometimes the nextdoor neighbour’s cat pops his head in, too! I don’t have a proper sewing table, which is a pain when you are working with heavy fabric that really needs to spread out on a long table. I have a compact metal chest of Helmer drawers from Ikea. I really recommend these for sewists, as there’s lots of storage space in those shallow drawers. I also have a secondhand table that I use for laying fabric and patterns out on as I’m working through a project. My rotary mat lives behind a side cupboard in the living room and the table top ironing board lives, well, wherever it can find a space. My boyfriend is extremely patient with the noise of the sewing machine when he’s watching TV."

What sewing projects have you got lined up for the future?

Karen: "I’ve started an evening course at Morley College, where I’m planning to make a version of the V8667 dress. Double knit or wool boucle – I just can’t decide. I’d also like to make the Simplicity 2443 jacket in linen. And having recently seen blog posts about the newly released Vogue patterns, I’ve fallen in love with Pamella Roland V1233. I’d love to make it in almost the same fabric as featured in the pattern photograph. With an imminent trip to New York on the cards, I may need to visit the Garment District and stock up on fabric…"

Thanks, Karen! Looking forward to seeing those projects, and looking forward to our outing to Walthamstow market! Readers, if you're interested in showing us your sewing stash, get in touch and I might be able to interview you in a future post...

16 January 2011

My new sewing space!

So - I was supposed to be writing a presentation at the weekend, but look what the procrastinator in me produced instead...

I now have a dedicated sewing space! Hurrah! No longer will I have to sweep my stuff to the side of the kitchen table when dinner's ready. Oh okay then, what I mean to say is, no longer will we have to eat our dinner on the floor. A dedicated sewing space! Yay!

Have you admired the gorgeous drawings on my wall, by the way? They're by Matou en Peluche. I love them so.

Black Gloves - 4 X 6 printGabriela - 4 X 6 print

Apart from those, the walls of my space are a blank canvas. I might get a pin board for inspirational pictures, fabric swatches, project ideas etc. What do you have on the walls of your sewing space?

Ooooooooooooohhhhh it's so exciting!!! I feel like I've been born anew!

[Soundtrack: 'Feels Like I'm in Love' by Kelly Marie]

14 January 2011

Friday Finds no.4

Hello friends! I hope you're having a good week. I am officially on sabbatical! No rest for the wicked though - I'm on a very intensive training course which is draining (mock Newsnight interview, anyone?!) but brilliantly motivating too.

Speaking of motivation (nice segue), here's this week's pick of inspirational posts from the sewing blogosphere:

- Cecili demystifies the process of sewing with Japanese pattern books when you can't speak Japanese. Want!

- Janice created an enviable archive for her pattern collection. I will get round to doing this at some point, oh yes.

- The Sew Weekly shared some swoonsome catalogue pages of 1930s fabric prints

- Casey announced a Swing Dress sewalong - I'm in!

- Peter is leading a sewalong of the Negroni men's shirt pattern

- Debi and Sarah are co-hosting a Sewing Through the Decades challenge

What blog posts have you been excited about this week? Have a great weekend, one and all!

[Soundtrack: 'Lady Devine' by Alela Diane]

12 January 2011

Two Beignet colour schemes

One of my New Year Re-sew-lutions is to make more clothes I can wear everyday. I wear my denim button down skirt all the time, so I've decided to get a couple more versions out of the Beignet pattern.

The first one, which I've started putting together, will be in red gabardine (left over from my Ceylon dress), with matching fabric covered buttons, red cotton poplin facings, mint green poly lining (left over from The Betty Draper Suit), and my red bow belt. It isn't going to have pockets because I forgot to put them in and can't be bothered to unpick the stitches I want a more fitted look.

The second one will be in a gorgeous needlecord in a colour I can only describe as "foam bananas" - you know, those soft yellow banana sweeties. Mmm... foam bananas... It will have matching yellow lining, leftover floral print for the facings and pockets from my first dress, and wooden buttons.

What are you working on at the moment?

[Soundtrack: 'Ballad of a Teenage Queen' by Johnny Cash]

9 January 2011

Learning to Sew - Part 2

This post is part 2 of Learning to Sew - Part 1, some tips for beginners on how to get start out in the wonderful world of stitching.

"What tools do I need to get started?"

There are squillions of different tools you could buy, from pressing aids to funny little wire loops whose sole function is to turn narrow tubes of fabric inside out. You could literally spend a fortune, but I survived perfectly happily in the first few months of my sewing life with the following essentials:

- Fabric scissors - keep them away from paper or they'll go blunt really quickly

- Thread scissors - for close-up snipping

- Pins - for... erm... pinning things

- Seam ripper - a beginner's best friend, essential for pulling out rogue stitches

- Tape measure - to drape around your neck so you can pretend you are Coco Chanel

- Needles - both sewing machine needles and hand-sewing needles in various sizes

- Thread - as close a match as possible to the colour of your fabric, plus some contrasting colours for temporary basting stitches (so you can see which stitches are the ones that need pulling out)

- Marking tools - for transferring pattern markings onto your fabric. There are a range of options available, including chalk that can be rubbed off or even just children's washable coloured pens.

- Iron and ironing board - for keeping all your folds crisp and accurate

- Cutting mat - to save your table from scissor scratches

If you can afford it, a dress form is great to help with the fitting process and will save you some of the hassle (and pin pricks!) of putting a garment on three million times when you're adjusting it. I made my own out of parcel tape!

As you become more experienced and learn about your sewing style, you might want to think about investing in various sewing machine feet, which are designed to help sew particular things like zigzag stitches, zippers, piping etc. They aren't essential and can add up in cost (they cost around £12 each), but might make your life a little easier. The next things I plan to buy are a rotary cutter for easy fabric cutting and tailor's ham for pressing curves. But I've lived without them for a year, so don't worry about things like that for now!

"Where can I get a reasonably priced sewing machine?"

Your sewing machine will be your biggest investment, but you don't necessarily have to spend an absolute fortune, especially when you're just starting out - you can always upgrade to a snazzier model when your ship comes in.

If you're buying new, prices can range from around £120 to £4,000. I got my Janome J3-18for £129 as a birthday present. It's a perfectly good machine, and though it doesn't have many fancy stitching options, how often am I going to use those settings anyway?

If you do a bit of research, you should be able to find a second-hand machine on selling and exchange websites like Ebay, Gumtree or Freecycle. Or even better - ask people you know. Seriously. Since I've taken up sewing, I've lost count of the number of people who've told me they own a sewing machine which is collecting dust in their attic. Spread the word that you're looking, and you may just be able to give an unloved machine a new home without spending a penny (that sounds wrong - you know what I mean).

"Where do you buy your sewing patterns?"

The big sewing pattern brands are McCalls, Vogue, Butterick, and Simplicity. They have their own websites or you can find them stocked in department stores or locally based websites, such as Sew Direct in the UK. Don't be deterred by what are often frumpy illustrations on the front of the pack! Squint your eyes and envisage the general shape with a better fit, in your favourite colour, with the right accessories. It's fun, isn't it?!

There are also some smaller independent companies. My absolute favourite is Colette Patterns, which has a small line of gorgeous designs with a vintage flavour. The patterns themselves are beautifully packaged, with delightfully clear instructions, and there's even a glossary included. And if you can't decide what colour or fabric to go for, there's plenty of inspiration available from the stitchers' gallery and Flickr group.

The lovely Tasia from Sewaholic has just started up her own pattern company, designed for pear-shaped ladies. Her first pattern, the Pendrell blouse, is available to buy now, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else she comes up with this year. I wish I had the design skills to start up a pattern company of my own!

You can download patterns for free (or for a small charge) from BurdaStyle. You print them out, tape the sheets of paper together and cut out the pattern pieces. There's a readers' gallery on each project page to inspire you.

There are a few other lines that I haven't yet tried but would be worth a look, including Kwik Sew, Sew Chic, Hot Patterns and Sew Liberated

If you want to get into sewing vintage patterns, you can find these on Ebay, Etsy and various independent online retailers. If you're lucky, you might find them in charity shops or antique shops going mega cheap. Be warned - sewing with vintage patterns is a totally different experience from using modern patterns. Casey has written a useful guide if you're new to vintage sewing. Even if you don't end up sewing with them, in my opinion they're collectible works of art and little pieces of fashion history to treasure. Swoon!

You can also get reproductions of vintage patterns which may not be collectible but are easier to use. For example, Vintage Vogue has a good range of designs from the 1940s and 1950s. Sense and Sensibility has a beautiful line of patterns from the Georgian era to the Swing era (I love the Beatrix Potter shirt!). And Wearing History has some stunning - and quirky! - garments from the 1930s and 1940s.

"Can you direct me to some useful websites?"

As you can imagine, there is a wealth of information about sewing online. To save you getting lost in the depths of the web, here are some of my favourites:

BurdaStyle - good for downloading free (or cheap) patterns, even better for browsing other people's finished projects for inspiration (my profile is tilly-vanilly)

Pattern Review - not a great looking website, but useful for checking out other stitchers' feedback on particular patterns before you buy them

Sew Retro - a group blog for people sewing vintage patterns, great for finding new blogs to obsess over

Casey's vintage pattern primer - a really good introduction to the specificities of sewing with vintage patterns

New Vintage Lady's guide to cost-effective patterns - a useful reference to temper your vintage pattern spending sprees

Tasia's Sewtionary - dictionary and tutorials for common sewing techniques

And, last but not least, sewing blogs! Reading about what other stitchers get up to is a great source of inspiration and advice. There's a list of some of the blogs I read on the right-hand side, although I'm constantly finding new ones as more and more people are catching the sewing bug. Hurrah!

I hope this post was helpful. Don't forget Learning to Sew - Part 1 if you haven't already seen it. And read the comments section too, in which readers have made some really valuable contributions to the discussion. If you've got tips of your own or want to flag up favourite pattern companies or other websites that you can't live without, please do share!

7 January 2011

Friday Finds no.3

Photo courtesy of Nette

Sorry for the lack of Friday post last week. The blogosphere went pretty quiet over the holidays, but there have been tons of inspiring posts since then. It was hard to whittle it down, but here are some of my favourites:

Nette made herself this lovely s(n)ewing machine!

- Sølvi turned the Sencha blouse into a super sexy dress - oh those buttons! And we successfully pressurised her into sharing a tutorial - hurrah!

- I've been swooning over these arrestingly beautiful images of the Ziegfeld Follies in the 1920s

There are lots of new year sewalong goings on:

- Some delightful projects are being planned for the Vintage Sewalong

- Lisette is hosting a Sense and Sensibility sewalong of a regency gown

- The Cupcake Goddess is leading a very practical trouser sewalong

Plenty to be getting on with then! Have a lovely weekend!

[Soundtrack: 'Dolly Dawn' by Harry Belafonte]

5 January 2011

Learning to Sew - Part 1

Since I began sewing, a lot of people - readers of my blog and real life friends - have shown an interest in taking it up themselves and have asked me how to get started. We're at that time of year when many of us are itching to try something new, so I thought it'd be good to answer some of those questions I get here, to give anyone tempted to take up sewing a few tips and a hearty dose of encouragement to get started.

Alas, this won't be a tutorial on the practicalities of using a sewing machine.
Update! I've now started posting practical tutorials on using a sewing machine - check out the Learn to Sew series.

Righto, here goes with some of the most common questions I get asked:

"I hated sewing at school... is it difficult?"

I hear the same story so often and it saddens me every time - the scary home economics teacher standing over the child's shoulder, screaming at them for the tiniest mistake, terrifying them so they never get the hang of threading a machine, let alone discover the pleasures that sewing brings. Maybe it was a blessing that I was never taught sewing at school so I wasn't put off at an early age. I want to shout it from the rooftops - "SEWING IS FUN!"

The most difficult part is learning to thread the machine, but really it's like tying your shoe laces - once you've got your head round that (see next question) and practised a few times it becomes second nature. After that, sewing can be as easy or as difficult as you like, depending on the projects and techniques that you choose to tackle. So you can take it at your own pace, starting with easy projects, upping the stakes gradually with more challenging techniques when you feel ready for it. There's always something new to learn, so it never gets boring, just more rewarding - that's the beauty of it!

"Does sewing your own clothes save you money?"

Not necessarily. On a single project I could spend £10 - £40 on fabric, £4 on thread, £5 on buttons, £1 or £2 on a zipper, and sometimes you need extras like bias tape, lace, linings... Having said that, you can get lucky and find cheap fabric and buttons that match your project at charity shops, markets and independent haberdashers. You can also upcycle things you don't wear in your closet... or even old bed sheets!

No matter what you spend on making a dress, you'll treasure it forever. And don't forget that you're not only paying for clothes, you're paying for your hobby at the same time (trust me, once you get the sewing bug, you won't be spending so much money down the pub or on entertainment - you'll want to stay home all the time!). Moreover, since I started sewing my own clothes, I've gone off shopping as I know that I can always make something that little bit more perfect myself (perfect as in suitable, that is, if not perfect stitching!). So in that sense, it can certainly save you tons of money!

"I have no idea how to use a sewing machine. How can I learn?"

Update! I've now started posting practical tutorials on using a sewing machine - check out the Learn to Sew series.

If you're like me and have no patience with instruction manuals, the best way to learn is to take a class. I started with a one-day workshop in how to use a sewing machine, which drilled me in threading the machine, showed me basic stitches, and taught me to make a simple appliquéd bag. After that, I took a three-day introduction to dressmaking course which taught me how to cut out the fabric pieces, follow a sewing pattern, sew in a zipper, make gathering stitches, set in sleeves, sew buttonholes and other basic techniques. Having a tutor on hand to check I was doing it right and to correct any (many) mistakes was invaluable, and having other beginners around me was really motivating. Have a look for courses at colleges, fashion schools or community centres. And in London at least there are sewing schools (such as Oh Sew Brixton) and craft cafes (such as The Make Lounge in Islington) popping up all over the place (hurrah!), and even museums are getting in on the act (eg. the Fashion and Textile Museum).

Alternatively, if you have a patient seamstress friend or auntie, ask them to sit down with you for a couple of hours to show you the ropes. They'll probably be flattered you asked! Just make sure you schedule in lots of time to practice afterwards so you really get used to the techniques.

Once you've mastered the basics, you can learn a lot from books, video tutorials and sewing blogs. Starting your own sewing blog is highly recommended for documenting your progress, keeping yourself motivated, and becoming part of a community very willing to share hints and tips!

"I know how to use a sewing machine to make simple things like cushion covers, but how do I make clothes?"

I'd advise you to follow a sewing pattern (see question below for suggestions). You can of course sew clothes without a pattern, by following tutorials in books, by basing your project on an existing item in your wardrobe, or if you're really confident you could just make it up yourself. But personally I think you're best off learning to follow a pattern, as it'll talk you through the standard procedure for putting a garment together and you'll learn new construction techniques along the way. Think of it as a life skill!

Interpreting a pattern can seem a bit daunting at first, so the quickest way to learn is to take a class that will help you decipher the instructions (or lack of them). I could show you the back of a pattern and explain how to read it if you want - leave a comment and if there's enough demand I'll go through it in a later post.

To sew clothes, you'll need to learn techniques such as forming darts, finishing seams, adding interfacing, inserting a zipper, sewing buttonholes, gathering stitch... You can get these from a book - I constantly refer to Complete Book Of Sewingbut again I would recommend a basic sewing course to get you started so you get hands on experience and tutor feedback.

"Are there any first projects you could recommend to get me started?"

If you've never sewn anything before, I'd begin with a simple tote bag. This will give you practice in straight stitching and hemming, and you can have fun decorating it afterwards!

For a first clothes project, I'd start with an A-line skirt or shift dress, with simple lines, a minimum number of pieces and no fancy techniques. When choosing a pattern, think about what you are ready to tackle. Zips? Buttonholes? Pleats? Gathering? You might also want to consider whether you can see yourself making up the same pattern a few times. Once you've completed your first garment, it's worth going through it again to remind yourself what you learnt.

My first clothes project was McCalls 2401, which taught me darts, zips, hems, sleeves and facings. Pyjama bottoms would also be a good first project to ease you in, or maybe a smock-style top, or even just an apron.

You also need to consider what fabric to use for your first project. Don't choose anything that's even vaguely slippery or liable to run, otherwise you'll be put off for life! A light- to medium-weight cotton would be good as it will lie flat, press well and won't slide around on the machine. There are a lot of gorgeous cottons around that are designed to be used for quilting and craft projects, and there seem to be two schools of thought on whether you can use them to sew apparel. Some people will be adamant that you can't use them for clothes as they are too stiff and don't drape nicely. In the other camp, some people say that you can use them for some projects that don't require flowing fabrics - such as an A-line skirt. This may all seem confusing, and choosing fabrics isn't my forte, but the back of the pattern will suggest some fabrics to use and you can always take your pattern into a fabric shop and find a friendly assistant to advise you.


Now read Learning to sew - Part 2!