13 February 2011

Stash Amnesty! featuring Handmade Jane

DIY disasters mean that I haven't quite finished the dress I wanted to show you, but I do have a Stash Amnesty! interview for you. I first "met" Jane (online, that is) last Summer when she emailed me a photo of the green polka dot Sencha blouse she'd made. She started her blog, Handmade Jane, soon afterwards, charming readers instantly with her colourful and stylish self-stitched wardrobe. Let's find out more about her and take a sneaky peak at her sewing stash...

When and how did you decide to take up sewing?

Jane: "Like a lot of other sewists, I was taught to sew at school by two very critical, impatient teachers who almost put me off for life. I’ve always loved clothes and fashion and was increasingly frustrated at clothes not fitting properly, so learning to sew has been on my wish-list for years.

Then, three years ago, my younger son was diagnosed as autistic. After a very stressful year waiting for his special needs statement, we eventually got him into an amazing school where he’s coming on in leaps and bounds. When he happily started school, it felt like an enormous boulder had been lifted off my shoulders. With that worry lifted, I realized I needed to focus on something different, something that I would really enjoy. So, in September 2009, I signed up for a beginners class in clothes making in Shepherd’s Bush.

I loved it from the very first class. I was all set to take on a complicated wrap dress but my mum wisely advised me to start with a simple A-line skirt to build up my confidence and skills. I made my skirt from a plain, grey wool mix (grey and navy crop up a lot in my sewing) and I’ve worn it to death (good advice mum!). I only intended to do one term, but I stayed for the whole year, during which time I also discovered and became completely addicted to sewing blogs (yours being the very first one I discovered!). Come the following September I decided I’d learnt enough to start making my own clothes and to start my own sewing blog, where I’ve been documenting everything I make."

Talk us through some of your favourite things in your stash

Jane: "I haven’t got a big stash of patterns at all (which is something I need to address!) and I’ve only got four vintage patterns. I’ve got a soft spot for my 1930s blouse pattern, which I won in a giveaway from Debi at My Happy Sewing Place. I love the fact that it’s so old the tissue pieces are unprinted. I also really like sewing with Colette Patterns and the new Sewaholic patterns.

I absolutely love patterned fabric, especially vintage style florals, polka dots and Scandinavian influenced prints. I tend to be drawn straight to a pattern so have had to make a concerted effort to sew the occasional item in a plain colour (usually navy). My current favourites are two double gauze fabrics I bought from a Japanese website. One will be used for the 1930s blouse and I think one will become a dress.

Notion-wise I can’t be without my tailor’s ham and seam roll set and I’ve just started collecting vintage buttons."

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

Jane: "When I first started sewing I just bought what I needed for the garment I was making and that was it. That kind of restraint didn’t last long. Although, with dressmaking fabric, I tend to have a particular garment in mind when I buy it so I haven’t actually got an enormous stash. At the moment I’ve got plans for all but two fabrics in my stash. Quilting cottons, on the other hand, are another matter! They’re so pretty and you can buy them in smaller quantities so I like piling them up for inspiration. I also make bags, purses and cushions to sell at craft fairs and for that, I do try to use as much as I can from my stash. It’s interesting to see which fabrics are more popular than others with buyers.

Apart from smaller quilting cottons, which I like to look at above my work desk, all my fabric fits into boxes under the bed. I’ve categorized them so it’s easy to find what I want - dressmaking fabric; fabric for craft fair items; plain fabrics; polka dots and ginghams; thick, upholstery-weight fabrics and linings/interfacings etc. I’m not a hoarder anyway, so I doubt whether my stash will become much bigger than this (famous last words)."

What are your favourite places for buying fabric?

Jane: "There are two basic fabric shops near where I live in West London that I tend to get all my day to day fabric from, but if I need a proper fix, then I’ll head to the Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush. There are probably 10-15 fabric shops in the same block, all selling amazing fabrics at rock bottom prices. It’s enough to make you pass out with excitement.

I’ve also bought some lovely fabric from eBay sellers, in particular the beautiful flowered cotton lawn I used to make my Crepe dress, which was a great find. The fabric sites I tend to go back to again and again, mainly because they have a steady stream of beautiful and interesting fabrics are misformake and Ray Stitch. For quilting cottons, I use Fabric Rehab, Saints and Pinners and Seamstar."

Tell us about your lovely new sewing area...

Jane: "I’m lucky enough to have my own dedicated sewing area, which is part of our converted loft. As well as doubling up as a guest room, there’s still plenty of space for a sewing nook for me. My husband is super-handy and made me some bespoke shelves for all my sewing bits and pieces. There are a couple of shelves for quilting cottons, one for buttons in jars and some longer shelves for patterns and smaller sewing books. The bottom shelves hold my sewing box, threads, bobbins, scissors etc plus there’s a little Perspex drawer that holds zips, vintage button packs and nametapes. My sewing space is still quite new so it’s all beautifully organized! I still have to use the kitchen table for cutting out but that’s no problem.

It’s great having everything to hand, right where I can see it, and the room itself is lovely and light. My sewing area is my oasis away from all the testosterone in the house, it’s my opportunity to indulge my girly side! I can potter away, sewing and listening to the radio and when I’m doing that, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be, I absolutely love it."

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

Jane: "I’m currently participating in Casey’s Swing Dress sewalong, making a 1940s style dress in red wool crepe. My next project after that will be making a vintage blouse from the1930s pattern using one of my double gauze fabrics. I might then try my hand at sewing from a Japanese pattern book. I’ve just bought my first one and have spent hours slowly turning the pages and sighing at the beautiful, simple garments. I think I’ll start with a skirt, as I’ve got a feeling my sizing doesn’t run along Japanese lines (at least the top half anyway). I’ve also got plans for another Pendrell blouse or two, perhaps interspersed with a few plain coloured items. Enough to keep me busy anyway."

Thank you, Jane - looking forward to seeing your next projects! Readers, don't forget to check out Jane's lovely blog.