31 December 2011

In 2012, I Intend to Sew.




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

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

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

I really want to sew more.

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

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

Eeeeeeep! I’m so excited!

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

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

23 December 2011

The Rewind: My Favourite Posts from 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Refashioned Lace Blouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a lovely festive break, y'all!

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

17 December 2011

Vintage Fashion on Film... from the Midlands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 December 2011

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

1 December 2011

What's On My Sewing Table...

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

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

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

What's on your sewing table?

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