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]

2 November 2011

A Meeting of Minds: UK Discussion Forum Needs YOU!

Exciting announcement time!! Currently underway are plans for an awesome creative meet-up, the like of which may never have been witnessed in the UK before! And we need YOU to help make it the most fantastic, useful, engaging, thought-provoking, joy-inducing event it can be…

Zoe and I are planning to organise a discussion forum for people who make their own clothes. The online creative community is such an enriching and wonderful entity, but sometimes it’s good to talk face-to-face. We’ve loved chatting to people at the IRL sewing meet-ups that we’ve attended, but it can be difficult to discuss anything in depth when there is lovely fabric competing for our attention!

What would happen if the creative clothing DIY community in UK had the opportunity to meet en masse to talk? What would come from being able to have more in-depth discussions over a participant-directed range of topics and a larger scale than previous crafting meet-ups have achieved? Let’s find out!

Zoe and I are passionate about creating an event that is as democratic and user-led as possible. We are in the early stages of discussion about how to arrange and organise this, but we are certain that everybody should get the opportunity to shape the content of the discussions by submitting topics and everybody will get an opportunity to contribute to those discussions once underway. So, in this spirit, now is the perfect time to ask you for your input...

When will the discussion forum be?
Spring 2012, date TBC, but probably a Saturday day time.

Where will it be?
London. We’re not trying to be metro-centric, it's just the easiest place to get to for most people.

Who is it aimed at?
Anyone who makes their own clothes - sewers, knitters, crocheters, refashioners... You don’t have to have to be a blogger or even read blogs regularly, but topics on blogging may feature.

How much will it cost to attend?
We're aiming to make it free to attend, although can't promise anything. We've got a few ideas about venues and potential sponsors, but if you have any thoughts or contacts we'd love to know.

Who will the speakers be?
You! Everyone! The idea behind the event is to involve everyone in the discussion, to share ideas as a group, rather than have "expert" panellists.

What will the topics of discussion be?
What do you want to discuss? We'd like you to help programme the event. Tell us what you want to discuss, and we'll pick the most popular issues. Just as some ideas to get you thinking, topics could include:
- What role does sewing/knitting play in your life?
- Is making your own clothes a passing trend or here to stay?
- What impact does making your own clothes have on the world?
- What draws you to read a blog/blog post?
- What's the future, where do you want this movement to go?

Will I get to learn about hemming techniques, bound buttonholes etc?
No. This won't be a practical workshop, it will be all about thinking, talking, discussing.

Sounds like a genius idea! How can I help make this happen?
Why thank you! Please tell us:
1) Whether you think you'll attend, so we can get an idea of numbers for venues;
2) What burning issues you would like to discuss (remember: this is not about practical techniques);
3) If you have any genius ideas about venues, sponsors, anything else we may not have thought of that would make this event amazing...

Looking forward to reading your thoughts!

Tilly + Zoe