28 April 2012

Stitcher's Indecision

One of the wonderful things about making your own clothes is the ability to design bespoke garments exactly how you want them. You choose the colour, the style, the fit, the neckline, the sleeve, the buttons... At times, however, I consider this availability of choice more of a curse than a blessing. It can take me days to decide which buttons to sew onto a blouse. My fabric stash is full of pieces I bought with one project in mind, then changed my mind. Matching the perfect pattern to the perfect fabric is no easy task. It can get a bit ridiculous sometimes.

Apparently people fall into two categories - "satisficers" and "maximisers". If a satisficer wants to buy an apple, they'll go into the nearest shop selling apples, and pick out an apple which is "good enough". A maximiser, on the other hand, will consider all the possible shops they could go into, perhaps do some research on their ethical credentials and pricing, then once there will examine each and every apple on sale to find the one without any bruises and the perfect blend of red and green. Do you recognise one of these behaviour patterns in yourself when you're in a fabric store or rifling through your fabric stash? I definitely fall into the maximiser category. Even though I may end up with the "best" choice, it's no surprise that maximisers tend to be more anxious and stressed than satisficers who keep the task simple and don't worry too much about their decision.

For my Greensleeves Dress, for example, I changed my mind about how to finish it around fifty times. Tab or belt? Cap or elbow length sleeves? Collar or no collar? For the red button-back blouse I'm currently working on, a seemingly simple step like picking out the buttons turned into a soul-searching quest. Are teal buttons too obvious a choice? Would red fabric-covered buttons send out the message that I want to blend in? Am I really a floral button kinda girl? Cripes!

Am I the only one who suffers from Stitcher's Indecision? Do you face the same problem? If so, have you developed any strategies to overcome this blockage? Help me!

[Soundtrack: 'Too Many Fish in the Sea' by The Marvelettes]

25 April 2012

A Day in the Life of Perri Lewis - craft writer

Don't you just love it when you see stitching popping up in mainstream media? One of the people we have to thank for that is Perri Lewis, magazine editor by day and freelance craft journalist by night, who has been spreading her love of making things through specialist magazines as well as the Guardian and Daily Mail. She's even found time to write a book. How does she juggle it all? "And what telly does she watch while she's doing it?" I hear you whisper. Read about Perri's daily routine in this month's A Day in the Life...

I leave the house and head for the tube. I got up about 45 minutes ago – I’ve perfected my morning routine so I don’t EVER have to get up before 7.30am. My outfit is usually decided the night before – a dress, a suit jacket and some heels – so I don’t go to work looking too much of a mess. Walthamstow is my new gaff, and I've heard there's a huge craft scene here. The East London Craft Guerrilla are based up here, for example, and apparently the massive market is the place to go for cheap fabric and haberdashery stuff. This is the kind of thing you learn when you meet the ladies of Borough Belles WI (Women's Institute), as I did last month. Though I was sad to leave South London (especially the brilliant Wimbledon Sewing Centre in Tooting), I'm pretty sure I'll get over it the minute I discover the craft delights of Walthamstow.

A quick ride down the Victoria line takes me to Soho, where I work at Psychologies magazine (consider it the thinking woman's glossy). I'm a commissioning editor: I help plan what's going in the magazine and source the right writers. At the moment I'm also our entertainment editor, so I look after our film pages and coordinate the celebrity interviews. No, I don't get to fly out to LA to hold meetings every month. But I do get to watch a hell of a lot of films months in advance of their release.

These days I get to explore Soho in my lunch break (lunch is usually a trip to Pure, Pret or Leon), but that wasn't the case last year. Last September I signed a contract with Virgin publishers to write a book about craft, so I spent almost every lunch break researching, writing, interviewing or planning - I soon discovered you can't fill 224 pages by simply working in the evenings and at weekends. It's been something I'd dreamt about doing for a long time. I've been making since I was young - my Gran and Nana taught me the basics - and writing has always been my thing. Forgive my blatant plug, but it's called Material World: The Modern Craft Bible, and it's being published in October. You can find out more about what's in it here, but what I will say is that it's unlike any other craft book out there - rather than 50 odd projects, it's a mix of advice and features about the craft world. And I've drafted in quite a few of my friends, and people I wish were my friends, to share their wisdom.

Each month we have a features meeting where we plan the next issue. You'd be amazed at how often craft and psychology bump into each other, so every now and again I throw in a feature idea based around craft. Alas, they don't usually make the final cut - we are a women's mag rather than Craft Monthly. But, these morsels don't go to waste: I have a section of my blog dedicated to the subject, but I also urge you all to take a look at Stitchlinks. The organisation investigate the link between craft, our brains and our wellbeing. Their findings are fascinating - craft, it seems, can have a similar effect on our mind as meditation does - so this charity is certainly one to support if you can. My favourite craft/psychology blend was a feature in Oprah magazine where the main picture was a knitted brain - I still have it up by my desk.

My Real Job, as I like to call it, is officially over. If I'm not at a screening of a new film, or having drinks in Soho (mine's a pint of cider), I'll be back on the tube on my way home.


This is the time my Not Real Job kicks in - freelance writing, with craft as my specialist subject. I don't think of it as real work because it never feels like hard graft to me - if anything, I feel pretty darn lucky that I get to write features about something I love. Over the last four years I've done everything from being a craft columnist (in Making magazine), written projects (for the Daily Mail), done fashion reports on the new trends in knitwear (for Knitting magazine), and most often, written about all things craft for the Guardian. My all time favourite project was a pair of decoupaged heels, but the Obama cross stitch went down a treat too.

Time to get some food - although in all honesty it'll be the boyfriend who cooks it. He's the chef in our house, and while I wrote the book he made almost every meal I ate. Kudos.

This heralds the start of Good Stuff On Telly, so I'll ditch the writing and do one of two things: update my craft blog or make stuff (I simply cannot sit down and watch TV without doing something useful). I'm not a wordy blogger - you'll not get posts that are longer than 100 words - so I can easily do it while I watch CSI/Glee/the news. The aim of the blog is to make people chuckle, say "OMG", or think about craft differently. You're more likely to discover which low-rent celeb has taken up knitting, or what high street giant has a craft-themed ad campaign, than see endless pictures of things I've made myself. In all honestly I'm way more likely to be blogging than I am making though - the irony of my craft work is that I spend more time writing about making stuff than I do actually making stuff. When I do find the time to delve into my craft box I'll usually be sewing. I get most of my gubbins from the three-storey London craft shop, MacCulloch and Wallis, but as I work just down the street from Liberty, you're just as likely to find me lusting after fabric in their haberdashery.

Yup, I'm still at it. Having a full time job means that my craft stuff - whether it's making or writing - has to fit into my free time. Sometimes I wish I had a little more time off for myself (I didn't see my friends for six months last year while doing the book), but then I remember it's my choice to do all this extra work. And I really wouldn't have it any other way. Not only is it all a good laugh, I've also made some great mates. Now is the time to give them a shout out: my guerrilla knitting crew Knit The City, cross stitch extraordinaire Jamie aka Mr X Stitch, craftivism's most dedicated advocate Sarah Corbett, and so many more I don't have space to name. I try to get to bed by about 11pm, but that never happens - I’m most definitely a night person. So long as I’m in bed by 12pm, I’m happy."


Thank you, Perri, for helping to spread the good news about craft!

21 April 2012

Fabric Shopping in Chicago with Liz!


My friends - words and pictures cannot convey the scale of the Textile Discount Outlet in Chicago. Half a city block long, three floors high, 12 ginormous rooms jam-packed full of fabrics, over-spilling with zippers, piled high with trimmings, bursting full of buckles... I spent a good couple of hours there and I still can't quite get my head round the amount of stuff they had in there, all at ridiculously low prices. This great video I found on the internets just skims the surface, but the cutter's comment that "It's like a fabric store on crack" really hits the nail on the head.

I'm in Chicago visiting my brother who lives here, but what's a city visit without a spot of fabric shopping? The lovely Liz from Zilredloh was my guide for the day. I'm so glad she was there as I wouldn't be surprised if skeletons of customers who lost their way were lurking amongst the basement aisles. Liz was super lovely and great fun - we had a hilarious time giggling at the random piles of off-cuts and rummaging for gems amongst the boxes.

And here's what I came away with - two silky soft polyesters which I want to use for Cynthia Rowley 1801, a denim-look thick cotton for a skirt, trimmings, nautical piping, and a really unusual belt buckle. Erm... yes, a couple of these pieces might look familiar to you, but I'm glad that I focused and found some things that are to my taste, rather than getting overwhelmed by the amount of stock, panicking and leaving empty handed. Now I can't wait to get cutting!

[Soundtrack: 'Come On! Feel the Illinoise!' by Sufjan Stevens]

18 April 2012

What's On My Sewing Table...

What's on my sewing table? Let's look at the evidence...

Can you guess what it is yet?

I'm off on a little trip now so will have to finish this another day. While I'm away I'm planning to meet up with another sewing blogger for the all important fabric-shopping-in-another-city "research project". We all do those, don't we?

[Soundtrack: 'American Girl' by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers]

14 April 2012

How to Hand-Paint a Breton Top

In my opinion one can never have too many Breton tops. But how to add that extra je ne sais quoi? Hand-paint the stripes, that's how! Vaguely horizontal but with a nonchalant messy edge to them. Neat stripes are soooo last week.

This is a great way to upcycle a boring old top or to turn a homemade garment into something that screams Agn├Ęs B. I must credit Creative Accomplishments for providing the original inspiration for this make, which I've adapted somewhat. Here's how to create your own...

You will need:
- Plain white t-shirt
- Fabric or screen printing paint
- Paintbrush
- Old newspaper
- Optional: buttons in a matching or contrasting colour to the paint

1. Wash and dry your t-shirt before you start to help the paint stay on the fabric. Put some old newspaper or another covering down on your table and in between the layers of the t-shirt.

2. Practise your stripes quickly on paper before you touch your t-shirt. Play around with colours, brush thickness and distance between the stripes until you're happy with your selection.

3. Position a ruler or strips of masking tape on the horizontal axis of your t-shirt to help keep your eye and your paint brush moving at the right angle - paint near this line, but not on it. Start painting! Don't worry too much about making your stripes perfect. Irregularity is a design feature! Accidentally spill a blob of paint in the wrong place? Another artistic flourish!

4. When you've finished one side, let it dry for an hour or so before turning it over and painting the other side. When both sides are dry, follow the instructions on the fabric paint to set it - this will probably involve either putting it in the tumble dryer or placing paper over the top and ironing it for a few minutes.

5. Sew buttons to the shoulder seams if you so choose.

6. Put on your best capris or drindl skirt and ballet flats, then glide down the street pretending you're Audrey Hepburn. And you're done!

Here are two I made earlier. If you make one for yourself, do share a link to your photos in the comments so we can all see!

[Soundtrack: 'I'd Rather Go Blind' by Etta James]

11 April 2012

Colette Patterns S/S12: Interview with Sarai


Last week I was lucky enough to get an early sneaky peek at sewing pattern favourite Colette Patterns' Spring/Summer range - exciting! I took the opportunity to conduct a mini interview with founder and designer Sarai about the gorgeous new line. Enjoy!

Where do you find your design inspiration? And what were your particular sources of inspiration for the new collection?

"A lot of my design inspiration simply comes from what I want to make and wear myself. For Lily, I've long wanted a really cute, classic, sort of sultry summer dress. I even knew I wanted to make it in white pique, which I did for my trip to Argentina this past December. Caitlin and I nicknamed this one 'the Sophia dress' because it reminded us both of something Sophia Loren would have worn.

The Hazel dress was partly inspired by a vintage dress in my own collection, which I bought at my favorite vintage store here in Portland, Xtabay. It had the V-shaped seaming on the bodice, which was just so flattering when I put it on. It really gives that hourglass sort of look. But I wanted to design something that would work for certain types of fabric, namely stripes and border prints. This one was really fun to design, and I particularly love the striped version.

The main inspiration for Iris came from customer requests, actually! Many people asked for shorts, and I wanted to do something with a slight nautical style, but still with fairly clean lines and easy to sew up. I imagined them as the sort of thing you could make ten of in different colors."

Can you give us an insight into the design process? How do you go about starting a new pattern or line?

"The design portion is definitely the most fun. There isn't really a set process, but Caitlin and I gather a lot of inspiration and then sit down and go through it, sketching and talking through ideas. I really take into account what our customers love and want more of, and any holes that seem to be in the current offerings. We also have to consider the practical aspects, like skill level, how many pattern pieces, etc. Finally, once we have the main designs down, we'll work out design details."

How long does it take you to produce a new pattern from design to promotion and all the steps in between?

"We release every six months, and that's about the amount of time it takes. The printing and binding takes quite a while, because we coordinate with 4 different companies to get everything the way we want it. I'm already working on Fall patterns right now!"

What can we expect from Colette Patterns in the future? Where do you see the company going?

"Sewing patterns are definitely our core business, but I'd love to branch out into other sewing-related areas, perhaps more media and publishing focused. We're starting to dip our toes into digital patterns with this release, which opens up a lot of possibilities. We're also in the very early stages of a collaborative project with another small company I really love and respect, so that's very exciting. But it's way too early to talk about!

We're definitely a growing company, and sometimes it feels like we're growing a bit too fast to keep up with! This year, I'm trying to make smart decisions about where I invest our time and resources so we can keep making things we love and feel proud of."

Congratulations, Sarai, on producing another delightful line of sewing treats!

10 April 2012

The Greensleeves Dress

Simplicity asked me to participate in the 'Get a Vintage Look' blog hop, making a dress from one of three vintage-inspired patterns they'd sent me. I chose 1913, a princess seamed dress with multiple options for creating squillions of looks depending on which skirt, sleeve, collar and belt you choose. The pattern includes a croquis kit which you can play around with to decide what style to go for - nice idea.


I made a couple of alterations of my own to the pattern. Firstly, I adapted the sleeve length to one I thought would be more practical for British weather. Secondly, I changed the gathers in the skirt to pleats in order to get a cleaner look, extending and accentuating the style lines of the bodice princess seams. Turns out Sunni had the same idea - great minds! Having redrawn the pattern lines to my measurements before cutting, my toile fit perfectly - hurrah! I did find a potential issue with the pattern though, which was that the back bodice pieces didn't match up, but I managed to fix this easily without distorting the dress.

This is definitely one of my cheaper makes. The linen-look cotton was £2/m from Simply Fabrics in Brixton, "You can't argue with that," I commented to the shop owner. "Oh but they do!" she sighed. The gorgeous Deco-style buttons were 20p each from Kleins trimmings shop in Soho. The lining was the most expensive part, a candy cane green silk blend from a shop in San Francisco.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this pattern is that it's part of the Pattern Runway line. Now, I've only ever seen about five minutes of Pattern Runway and it's not easily available in the UK. Would I like it? Do you think it's worth me seeking it out?

The other stitchers participating in the Get a Vintage Look blog hop have made some lovely things - do take a peek at these gorgeous makes by Suzannah, Sunni, Lavender and Zoe. Also, Simplicity are giving away the three patterns on their website so hop on over if you fancy getting your mitts on your own copies...

[Soundtrack: 'Baltimore' by Nina Simone]

7 April 2012

The Real Cost of Sewing

One of the questions I'm most frequently asked by non-stitchers is whether sewing your own clothes saves you money. The cost of sewing can vary greatly depending on your choice of fabric, but let's consider the costs involved in an example dressmaking project:

Fashion fabric x 2 metres - £20
Lining fabric - £6
Thread x 2 spools - £3
Buttons x 6 - £4.50
Binding - £2.50
Calico for bodice toile - £3
Belt and buckle kit - £6
Pattern - £6
TOTAL: £51.00

On top of that, consider the odd supply you may need, such as a change of sewing machine needles or spare bobbins, plus depreciation of your machine and other existing tools. At a modest guess, let's say these things cost £300 over 5 years, so if you make one project a month that works out as an extra £5 per project. And don't forget electricity for both your machine and the iron!

Historically, making garments for yourself and your family was viewed as an austerity measure, wearing feedsack frocks and home knits being an indicator of a modest background. These days, however, when you can buy a dress on the high street for £15, sewing your own could be considered the expensive option. In fact, I recently heard a prominent intellectual warn of the danger of craft becoming the preserve of the middle classes. Not so much 'make do and mend' as 'make do and spend'.

There are, of course, ways to bring the cost of a sewing project down:

  • Source fabric from markets and local shops for around £2 per metre
  • Look out for second hand notions or buy them in bulk from wholesalers
  • Set up a "pattern swap" between friends to minimise your ebay splurges
  • Reuse patterns multiple times to get the most use out of them
  • Choose projects which require less fabric - for example, a full dress can use 4m but a pencil skirt only 1m
  • Thrifted curtains can be upcycled into surprisingly nice clothing.

Moreover, sewing can save you a lot of money in the long term. The average person in the UK spends £735 on clothing per year*, and this figure is growing, even since the recession. Now, I'm no average person. Before I started sewing I was a self-confessed shopaholic. I don't have expensive taste - more Miss Selfridge than Missoni - but working near Oxford Street means that temptation is everywhere. Let's say I used to spend £75 per month on clothing, or £900 per year. From the moment I learnt how to make my own stuff, shopping suddenly lost all its appeal and my consumption dropped drastically. Instead of drooling over pretty things in Anthropologie, I now think, "Meh... I could make that". I've been through my wardrobe and can tell you that in the last twelve months I only spent £135 on clothing. That's a mere 15% of my previous spend, saving £765. Let's say I make five expensive projects at £50 each and five cheapo ones at £15 each, that works out at £325 per year on sewing. A pretty big saving.

So sewing may not be the cheapest hobby in the world if you look at how much it costs in itself, but if it turns you off shopping - and this attitude shift happens to a lot of people - it can save you a lot of dosh in the long term.

What about you? Do you think you spend more or less on sewing than you would spend on buying clothes if you couldn't make them yourself? Do you have any tips of your own on how to keep costs down?

[*data source]

6 April 2012

Winners, Winners and More Winners!


The winner of the Sewaholic Refrew pattern is... Ally!

The winner of two Colette Patterns sewing patterns of their choice is... Cookin' with Katherine!

The three winners of five Simplicity / New Look patterns of their choice are... ElizabethB, Genealogy Bug and Sharon!

Woooooop! Congratulations, my dears! Hope you enjoy your patterns. And many thanks to the prize donors, Sewaholic, Colette Patterns and Simplicity.

This round of OWOP! is now at a close but remember you can still do an OWOP! week whenever you like! And if want a different challenge, I highly recommend signing up to Me-Made-May, which is going to be awesome. OWOP! is like a quarter marathon in comparison to MMM, the big one!

[Soundtrack: '10/10' by Paolo Nutini]

2 April 2012

OWOPing All Over the World!

Phew! Checking out 105 OWOP entries takes aaaaages! But I had so much fun oohing and ahhing over everyone's fabulous submissions that I can't complain. Who knew compiling an uber spreadsheet could be so enjoyable?

For those of you who loved the pie charts - don't be ashamed - you'll love this. I was so excited when Dr Helen offered to crunch the data in a professional statistical analysis system she uses at work. She produced yet more charts and tested out the hypothesis that there is a correlation between pattern company and garment type. The results? No correlation! So now we know. Thanks Helen!

I wish I could feature everyone's submissions in this post but with 105 participants you'll have to consult the spreadsheet otherwise this post would be so long it'd crash your computer. But here is just a mini selection of highlights:

I'm totally in love with Andrea's multiple versions of New Look 6104. Such a simple pattern but she's cleverly designed every one of her makes to look totally different to the others...

... as did Oona. "Is that really the same pattern?!" I kept asking myself. But it is!

I loved Jacq C's Sorbetto photos featuring placards and family members - adorable! Jacq says “I've just been making clothes for myself since Feb so this is my only multiple make - 5 to date... I've got a bit of practice with different techniques... I'm pretty confident with french seams now, bias binding and making a facing, I even did Mena's ruffle neckline on my Liberty Sorbetto... And using different fabrics has made me get to grips with different needles and tension settings - which feels really scary!"

How gorgeous is Marie's floral Renfrew? Her clever choice of fabric has made a casual t-shirt look seriously stylish. I love everything about these two outfits. Check out her boyfriend's commentary on her OWOP outfits!

Maider wore the Minna blouse from Salme Sewing Patterns. Great to see so many lovely versions of a pattern I'm not familiar with from a smaller designer.


I'm a big fan of everything Paunnet makes so I was excited to see her multiple versions of the new-ish Banksia pattern from Megan Nielsen. So lovely.

And finally I feel a special mention should go to those OWOPers who wore trousers. The stats analysis revealed that not many people chose them and, in fact, not many of us dare sew them. I love this photo of Leah in her Clovers - put down the coffee, lady!

Good work, everybody! I'm super chuffed that so many people played along and had such fun in the process. I think we deserve some prizes, don't you? In case you hadn't noticed, there are three fabulous giveaways to celebrate OWOP! - you can win patterns from Sewaholic, Colette Patterns and Simplicity. Enjoy!

[Soundtrack: 'Black Gold of the Sun' by Nuyorican Soul]