31 August 2011

Pattern Magic Books Giveaway Winner!

Thank you to all 160 of you who entered the giveaway to win Pattern Magic books 1 and 2. Fascinating to read what your most used patterns are - the simpler the design the better, it seems. But that won't be a consideration for the winner of these stunning books, who is...

... [drumroll] ...

True Random Number Generator  20Powered by RANDOM.ORG

 Anjomo said...
What an awesome giveaway! I've been eyeing those for a while..
My favourite pattern is the Sencha blouse from Colette. It's easy to sew but so chic and versatile.
26 August 2011 09:41

... Anjomo! Woooooo! Anjomo, I'll drop you an email about your winnings. I'm sure you'll love them.

Thanks again to Laurence King for offering these amazing prizes.

28 August 2011

Creativity in Every Home: What Can the Cultural Sector Learn from Dressmaking Blogs?

I finally finished and submitted my provocation paper the other day. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed their thoughts on the impact that sewing has had on your lives and what sewing blogs mean to you. A few people said they wanted to read the paper when it was finished, so here it is. As a reminder, the brief was to write a short piece to provoke thought and debate on the UK cultural sector and leadership. We were encouraged to write something personal...


Creativity in every home:
What can the cultural sector learn from dressmaking blogs?

"I found this world of sewing bloggers in June. Since that time, I have been happier and more excited about life than I have been in years." - Anna Christina

What does an authentically participatory cultural sector look like? This question has been playing on my mind throughout my Clore Fellowship. Over the past few years, arts organisations have been discussing how to remain relevant in an increasingly participatory society in which users or consumers are becoming producers. Web 2.0 and social media have been providing people with a platform to share their thoughts, interact with each other, and curate and distribute what they think is valuable, including things they have made themselves. Arts organisations, accustomed to being the experts, having expert curators and working with expert artists, are very aware of this shift in the cultural landscape and the implications for the traditional relationship between the arts and audiences. While there has been some outright resistance, many organisations have endeavoured to embrace the opportunity to encourage more active involvement from the public, to explore what a more bottom-up model would look like, testing out participatory performances and workshops, artworks involving public input solicited through online channels, and audience-led programming, for example.

Yet, as bold as these initiatives have been, an element of top-down control has remained. The starting point has still been the arts organisation itself, working within its own structures, with the projects led by curators. Debates persist over how much control can be relinquished to audiences without “lowering standards”. This is an understandable concern for arts organisations whose mission is to encourage excellence, but the issue seems to miss the point of self-led culture, a movement which is already happening independent of arts organisations and one premised on the absence of top-down regulation. How, then, can and should the cultural sector more fully and authentically embrace participatory culture? How can we shift the emphasis away from the artist, curator or organisation and provide the public with genuine agency, in both creating and curating?

Each time this subject arose during Clore seminars and discussions, my mind kept returning to the same example – sewing blogs.

In December 2009, I felt a sudden, overwhelming urge to make something. On a whim, I signed up for a sewing workshop and was soon on cloud nine from having rediscovered a lost sense of creativity. As I didn’t want to have to keep attending classes, and as none of my friends sew, one day I started digging around the internet and unearthed a community of sewing bloggers – hundreds of people across the world, from different cultural, religious and class backgrounds, who had come together to form a virtual sewing circle. I promptly joined and it is this online network that has allowed me to develop my skills and which continues to fuel my interest in and passion for sewing everyday.

Like many people, my day mainly consists of sitting at a computer and my work in essence involves shifting ideas and information around. While enjoyable and rewarding to an extent, after years of doing this I felt a desire for something extra – to set my hands to a use other than typing, to engage a different part of my brain, and to create something tangible. The cultural sector should not underestimate the impact that making things yourself has on people, particularly in the digital age when many of us spend most of our lives staring at a computer screen. While attending cultural events is entertaining, inspiring and challenging, nothing has had such a big effect on me as making my first dress.

This view is shared by many of my fellow sewing bloggers who responded to my blog posts on the subject. The process of designing and constructing a garment provides a creative outlet, a stimulating challenge and a reawakening of a childlike sense of experimentation and discovery:

"My day job is stressful. But when I have the opportunity to immerse myself in a project, it is as if I am walking from the black-and-white scene of my ‘normal’ life into the technicolor world of fabric, imagination and possibility. The experience is tactile, visual, psychological and emotional." - Beth

Making something yourself, witnessing your idea become actualised and externalised in physical form, gives you not only an immense feeling of achievement, but also a feeling of agency. This feeling of agency offers you a stronger sense of connection to the world, making you feel more empowered and in control. For many people, having creative control is vital to their sense of self. In fact, a number of people emailed me to tell stories of how the process of making things got them through particularly difficult periods in their lives – eating disorders, miscarriages, and clinical depression.

"At a time when I felt like I sucked at everything, being able to create was an amazing feeling. It was soothing and stimulating at the same time and it was definitely a factor in my recovery." - Roisin

This sense of control is also reflected in the structure of the sewing blog community. It is a self-led network, with no hierarchy, and no division between “expert” and “amateur”. Everyone has something valuable to contribute no matter how long they have been sewing. Through our blogs we pool together our collective skills, building on each other’s knowledge to create a powerful resource which allows us to learn new techniques and problem solve together. While many cultural organisations struggle to reach new audiences, the fact that the sewing network does not distinguish between people based on their expertise or professional status encourages new people to join all the time – I regularly receive emails from people who have said that reading my blog, which I started writing as soon as I started sewing, inspired them to try out a new craft themselves. As well as sharing knowledge, the sewing network provides momentum for people to keep on creating. We feel like part of a collective endeavour, spurring each other on to work towards our common goal of making things. Through our blogs we have a platform to showcase what would otherwise be a movement hidden behind closed doors, to celebrate creativity which happens at the home.

In addition to providing daily support and motivation, some special projects have been initiated through the blogs, projects with the sort of ambition, reach and impact that well-funded arts institutions strive to organise. There are sewalongs, in which tens or hundreds of stitchers all over the world decide to sew from the same pattern, guided by a blogger who sets the schedule and provides tutorials on construction techniques to enable beginners to follow along. There are “Me-Made” months, when sewists celebrate their creativity by wearing only homemade clothes for a month, sharing photographic evidence of their challenge online. There are projects such as A Common Thread, where a length of vintage lace was divided up between eight women around the world who each used it to embellish a different garment. These initiatives all demonstrate the value of different individuals’ approaches to making, at the same time as connecting up a geographically disparate group of people into an active, tight-knit and – above all – collaborative community.

The success of the online sewing network – as well as other networks of makers – and the impact that it has on people’s lives presents an opportunity for the cultural sector. At the same time it raises questions about the sector’s current criteria and priorities for what it supports. Self-led cultural and creative activity is happening. To genuinely and authentically embrace this movement, the sector – and the funders and policy makers who support it – must reassess their assumptions about the starting point of cultural activity.

The internet provides an opportunity to empower and inspire more and more people to engage in arts, crafts and culture. They are not obliged to buy a ticket or attend a geographically-specific cultural venue or a temporally-specific artistic event. They can engage on their own terms, from home, when they choose, making culture and creativity part of their everyday lives. Could the cultural sector shift some of the emphasis away from trying to bring audiences into venues towards meeting people in their own space – at home, online? Creative Scotland have stated an ambition to foster “creativity in every home” – perhaps this should be an objective of more cultural agencies.

Social media allows a community-led approach to spreading cultural engagement and nurturing creativity. Instead of a one-way transfer of expertise, it empowers non-professionals to play an active role as cultural producers, fostering the deepest level of engagement from participants and enticing new people to join in. The cultural sector should recognise the value of networks of “amateur” makers and consider how it could accommodate and champion them through policy and funding in the same way that it supports centralised professional organisations. Can the cultural sector raise its game from talking about “audience development” to talking about public creative empowerment?

We say that the arts inspire people, challenge people, make them feel good, add value to their lives. There is no question that attending a cultural event – whether a dance performance, an artist talk, or a craft workshop – organised by an arts organisation, at a specific time and location, has a positive impact on people’s lives. But for an even deeper and more lasting impact, the sector could work towards including amateur maker networks, and help make creativity a part of people’s everyday lives.

"I can’t express how much my life has improved as I feel like I have a purpose. Sewing for me is most definitely not a hobby but a way of life and I wouldn’t have it any other way." - Magpie Mimi

- Tilly Walnes
Clore Fellow 2010/11, supported by the Cultural Leadership Programme

26 August 2011

Giveaway! Pattern Magic Books 1 + 2


Did you see my review of the Pattern Magic books? Wanna create some wild and wacky patterns for yourself? The publishers are offering to send one of my readers copies of both books.

For a chance to win, just leave a comment below saying what your most used sewing pattern is and why - or if you haven't made a pattern more than once, which do you think you'll get the most use out of? (If you're a regular reader you'll probably be bored of me saying that mine is Colette Patterns Beignet because it's wearable, versatile and simple to fit.)

The closing date is Tuesday 30th August at midnight GMT, after which the winner will be picked at random. The giveaway is open internationally. Don't forget to leave your email if it's not attached to your blogger profile so I can get in touch if you win.

Bonne chance!

24 August 2011

Pattern Magic: Book Review


Even before I started pattern drafting I had my eye on the intriguing-looking Pattern Magic books, so I was thrilled when the publishers, Laurence King, sent them to me to review.

Accordion Back

Knot Dress

The books outline how to create flat patterns for avant garde garments inspired by geometric shapes. The author, Japanese professor of fashion Tomoko Nakamichi, says, "You can create a garment by cutting, moving and reassembling the pieces of a pattern, just like the pieces of a puzzle." And they really do look like puzzles - beautiful, mysterious, sculptural puzzles...

Bamboo Shoot Bodice

Drop Hole Skirt

Some of the designs are pretty and wearable - such as the Knot Dress, Bamboo Shoot Bodice and Cowl Neck - the kinds of garments that will have people staring but in a good way. Others are plain nuts, featuring craters in skirts, cube-shaped protrusions, accordion-like depressions and even Escher-style "vanishing" pockets. At various page turns I found myself scratching my head and yelping, "What the...?! How the...?!"

The books aren't too text-heavy, which I really like, and include detailed diagrams for each design. And when I say detailed, I mean detailed. And complicated. These books are not for the faint-hearted. Or the beginner. But if you've mastered the basics of pattern cutting, have caught the bug and are eager to experiment with complex three dimensional designs, you should definitely take a look at Pattern Magic. I'm really looking forward to a rainy day when I can get stuck into one of these puzzles...

[Soundtrack: 'Impossible Soul' by Sufjan Stevens]

Disclosure: Laurence King sent me these books to review. This is my full and honest opinion.

20 August 2011

Bustier Top Blues

Oh dear. This didn't turn out brilliantly. It's wearable. But wonky. And wiggly. I followed Zoe's extremely comprehensive tutorial to make this bustier line t-shirt - part 1 here and part 2 here. I say "followed" but I was feeling a bit complacent and skim read it to get the basic idea and made my own way. Had I paid more attention I would have heeded Zoe's warning to choose two fabrics of similar weight...

I already had a basic t-shirt pattern drafted. I drew in the bustier seam line and traced off two panels for the front and two for the back with seam allowances. So far so good.

What's wrong with this picture? When I took the above photo I was feeling pretty smug, swooning over the well-defined lines on the pre-stitched pieces. Sharp-eyed seamsters amongst you will probably be shaking your heads, having spotted two problems. Firstly, the white fabric is much lighter weight than the navy fabric, as previously mentioned, meaning that the top bit doesn't sit right. Secondly, the concave point of the sweetheart line is way too sharp. How on earth was I going to negotiate that point with my serger knife and triple threads?

Badly, is the answer. Just look at this mess! I had to go over it about five times, softening the angle each time until it looked vaguely symmetrical. If you're thinking of making a top like this, I urge you to listen to Zoe's advice to pick fabrics of similar weight and don't try to be too ambitious with your sweetheart shape - the smoother the line the better. I've learnt my lesson.

[Soundtrack: 'Stop All the Buses' by Cecil Augusta]

17 August 2011

My Vintage Pattern Collection

I thought it was about time I took a little inventory of my vintage sewing patterns. I've collected these over the last year or so from charity shops, antique shops, eBay and as gifts from friends. I've dated as many as I can, but there are a few for which I haven't yet identified years - if you know the answer, please share.

I've sewn up relatively few of them, but I love just looking at them just as much as making them - holding a piece of sewing history in my hands and thinking about the people who have owned it before me, what stories may be behind the pencil marks and scissor snips on the pattern pieces. Aren't they dreamy?

Simplicity 3263 (1950)

McCalls 8861 (1952)

Simplicity 4255 (1953)

Le Patron de Paris (?)

Simplicity 1011 (1954)

Advance 8622 (1957?)

Advance 9050 (1959)

McCalls 6120 (1960?)

Simplicity 6162 (1965)

Simplicity 7032 (1967)

Butterick 3030 (?)

Butterick 3354 (?)

Style 2587 (?)

Simplicity 7341 (1976)

Simplicity 7915 (1977)

Woman 432 (?)

And finally, the oldest of the bunch...

Standard Fashion Co. 7661 (c.1910)

[Soundtrack: 'Honey Bee' by Muddy Waters]

13 August 2011

Back to School: Pattern Cutting

Thank you for all your thoughtful words following my last post. Things seem to be calming down now, in London at least, so it's high time to move on from the destruction and get back to making things.

Last week I took a week's holiday from work. When my colleagues asked me if I was going anywhere nice, they were rather bemused that my answer was, "Yes, Shepherd's Bush!" I spent the week at the London College of Fashion on a pattern cutting course, Womenswear 1.

In preparation, I got a bit overexcited in Rymans stocking up on stationery and couldn't resist a big portfolio case to carry my patterns in. I must have looked a type, as on the first day a bin man gave me directions to the college - without any prompting...

It really did feel like going back to school. Not only the echoey corridors, the nervous first registration, and the instructions on which way to hold a pair of scissors. The first couple of days felt a bit like sitting in a physics lesson, trying to get my head round alien concepts, using a totally different part of my brain than I normally use. It was pretty exhausting, but extremely stimulating and I soon got the hang of it. Once you understand the basic concepts of dart manipulation, you can let your creativity take over. Or as our teacher put it, "Once you understand the rules, there are no rules". Hurrah!

We began by tracing off standard bodice blocks. They have shoulder and waistline darts on them, and the idea is that you can move these darts to other places on the bodice, combine or divide them, put them in different configurations (straight, curved, square...) or develop them into style lines (eg. princess seams). There are two methods of dart manipulation - pivoting on the one hand, slash and spread on the other. Personally I like pivoting for standard dart movements, but slash and spread comes in handy later when things get more complicated.

We got to play around a bit, trying out different techniques and our own ideas, making up a blouse toile. Later on we drafted patterns for different kinds of collars, sleeves, facings, a button stand and skirts. The combination of drawing and maths is super appealing to me - my two favourite subjects when I was at school. Add that to the dressmaking possibilities that knowing how to draft your own patterns opens up and you have a winner. I have soooooo many ideas for designs and now I know the basics of how to make them into patterns... the only trouble is I don't know which one to make first!

What I do need to do next is to invest in a dress form. Do any of you have a reasonably priced dress form that you can recommend? One that's sturdy, with a pin-able cover, preferably on a swivel if possible...

[Soundtrack: 'I'll Come Running Back to You' by Sam Cooke]

9 August 2011


This is a blog about sewing and I don't usually write on it about anything other than sewing. But it just doesn't seem right to post about waistline darts and shoulder gathers with no mention of the madness that has been going on in London, that has taken over our lives and our consciousness over the past couple of days.

I'm sure you've seen the news reports of the chaos, the lootings, the homes and businesses being burnt to the ground. I'm not going to use this blog as a platform to have a rant about the underlying roots of this kind of unrest, or the significance of the criminal actions being focused on the frenzied acquisition of consumer goods. But I do want to share a couple of stories about the positive side of human nature, of the culture of community, that may not have reached all my international readers.

On Monday morning, I opened my front door to find boxes from looted electronics littering the pavement, rocks from a riot strewn across the street, the stores round the corner completely ransacked, almost every shop window on the high street smashed in and destruction inside. A feeling of fear almost gripped me, a desire to barricade myself indoors and never trust anyone ever again. But standing there on the corner of Brixton Road was a lady handing out cupcakes. A simple gesture. I was hurried across the road so didn't get to taste one but seeing her there was enough to put a little smile on my face and to remind me that the world isn't so bad after all.


A bigger gesture is that there are the gatherings of people - calling themselves Wombles - armed with brooms rather than baseball bats, coming together to clean up the streets. Doing something constructive, but also making a stance to reclaim the streets and show the people whose businesses have been destroyed that there are people willing to help out.


7 August 2011

A Day in the Life of Rachel Hart - Ray Stitch

Have you ever dreamed of running your own haberdashery? Sourcing and selling beautiful fabrics and dreamy notions? Rachel Hart did, so she opened online store Ray Stitch - one of my absolute favourite websites to browse. If that isn't enough excitement and achievement, they're now about to open an IRL shop in Islington, London in September. "But how many coffees does she drink in a day?" you cry. Lucky for us, she's going to tell all in this month's A Day in the Life...


"For the last couple of years I have been running Ray Stitch from the house where I live with my husband and 3 daughters. My husband Marcus is an architect and we built our timber-framed house 10 years ago. For a while it was able to generously accommodate the business as it grew but now we are bursting at the seams and it’s time to move out. The plan was always to have a proper shop for Ray Stitch and after many months of searching I have found the perfect one. So my typical working day at the moment is not typical at all, it’s a unique and very exciting time planning and fitting out the new shop.

I get up at 6.45, wake the children at 7.15 then spend a crazy hour making breakfasts and packed lunches and generally bossing people about. My working day begins after waving goodbye to Marcus and the girls at 8.15 and greeting Michelle and Sam who arrive at 8.30.

For the first year or so I ran Ray Stitch on my own, getting help from sewers, stylists and techy people when needed. Clearly I had to build the business up before it could support full-time staff but I was never completely happy working on my own, I like a buzz around me. Now I work with Michelle who manages pretty much everything to do with the online shop and Sam who is a recent addition and is planning and organising the cafĂ© we’ll have as part of the new shop. It great to be able to share the load - Michelle is amazing, she is brilliantly organised and is constantly having good ideas. She also has an excellent eye for lovely things borne from her years at Selvedge Magazine. Sam is a man! – a bit flummoxed by the world of sewing but very at home in the world of delicious food.


First thing we all snuggle down with our emails. At the moment I’m dealing with Michael the web designer who has recently upgraded the website and is now doing various other unfathomable things with it in cyberland, Nik the joiner who is overseeing the team of electricians, decorators, plumbers and joiners (it feels like I’m building from scratch!) at the shop and Jane, the graphic designer who has designed the new shop front, the packaging and bits and pieces for the shop display. I have fairly firm ideas about the look and feel of Ray Stitch but will never cease to be impressed by the broadness and clarity of thinking that seems to be characteristic of graphic designers. Jane has come up with lots of clever little packaging ideas, so simple I should have thought of them myself but sadly never could.

Michelle puts all the orders together at the moment but I’d like to start doing them again soon. I love gathering up the bits and pieces people have chosen for their project, combining fabrics and trims in really well thought out ways, it’s great to see. And when we get into the shop I’m particularly looking forward to cutting fabric on our brand new, 3 metre long, solid oak cutting table with inlaid measuring rule!

Lunch times have been fairly fun lately. Sam has had us testing out sandwich fillings and sampling the wares of various bakeries and patisseries we might use to supply the shop. He prepares a ‘smorgasbord’ and Michelle and I mmm and ooo and chomp away, neither of us are very discerning testers - we like everything. Sam and I had quite an experience recently going round all the different coffee roasters to taste coffee and choose a supplier. We’d down 3 or 4 cups of super fresh coffee whilst listening carefully to all the ins and outs of various beans and blends then come out so zinging we couldn’t remember a thing we’d been told or which coffee was which. Sam was so caffeinated on one occasion that he fell off his bike! In the end, we had to take my friend who is an expert coffee drinker with a very sophisticated palate, she asked all the right questions and chose us an excellent coffee from a very friendly local roastery, Climpson and Sons in Broadway Market. Our coffee machine arrived at the shop last Saturday and tomorrow we’ll all have a full day of barista training - I’m really enjoying learning about coffee, it’s a fascinating art.

Normally in the afternoon I’d have a photographing session if we have new stock, or tweak the website, or order new stock or deal with paperwork. Sadly, I rarely get time to do any sewing these days. If we have things made up as samples we ask Ana to do it, she’s brilliant and super-fast, she can copy anything and will just take away a pile of fabric and return it the next day all made up into clothes – it’s like The Elves and the Shoemaker! When we move into the shop, we’ll have a big sewing room downstairs for classes and workshops so I’ll get back into then. The list of things I want to make is very, very long.

At the moment I usually go over to the shop in the afternoon to see how things are progressing. I must say it still looks like a bit of a building site to me and it’s hard to imagine us moving in in 6 days time but the ever-positive Nik assures me that all is on target and will come together beautifully at the last minute as these things do – I love him! At times I’ve found the whole thing completely nerve-wracking but Nik has taken on the job with all it’s last minute changes and mad ideas without a flicker of negativity, he’s the jolliest joiner in the world.

So, I’m very close to realising the dream. I started Ray Stitch because I always wanted to run my own business and because as a keen sewer and knitter I was frustrated by the lack of inspiring high street shops selling the kind of things I wanted to buy. I decided to create my own and now I’ve almost made it happen, my typical day is about to change big time, I really cant wait!"


We can't wait either, Rachel! I think a blogger meet-up at the new shop will be in order - what do you think, readers?

4 August 2011

The Artists Only Dress

I was planning to add a fancy embellishment to this dress but on second thoughts I went with simple - the print has enough going for it, non?

This is McCalls 2401, a pattern I'd highly recommend for beginners, being the first garment I made. A trusted, easy project for me, but I inserted my first invisible zipper so I have been able to tick something off my techniques list. The fabric is a lightweight cotton I was very excited to find at the Goldhawk Road Fabric Fandango. I haven't got the world's best knees, but I've had to leave my vanity at the door as this project was crying out for a late 1960s-style shortened hem. It's cool and comfortable for Summer, and I'm looking forward to cracking open the coloured tights with it come Autumn. Peacock blue, burgandy, mustard yellow...

"Ooh yeah, tights!"

[Soundtrack: 'Artists Only' by Talking Heads]