26 July 2012

IRL Sewing Courses

My friends, you know how much I love picking up sewing tips and tricks from the internet (ah! my precious internet...), but I feel a sudden urge to sit in a classroom and learn some new things surrounded by other students. Do you have any recommendations for good sewing schools or intermediate level courses in London? There are a few I'm interested in at London College of Fashion (where I took a couple of pattern cutting classes last year), including vintage couture techniques and professional sewing techniques, and I'm hunting for other options which aren't too basic and which I think would add sufficient value to what I can learn online.

Have you been on any good sewing courses? Do you have any recommendations?

PS. I've got rubbish internet connection this week so apologies if I don't reply immediately, but rest assured I will get there!

PPS. Inna from Thewallinna and other creatures has volunteered to coordinate the Asia/Oz Sewing Social Twitter Chat - please coordinate with Inna directly either through her blog or via the comments on my previous post. Thank you!

[Soundtrack: 'This May Be the Last Time' by The Staple Singers]

24 July 2012

Sewing Social no. 2

After the runaway success of last month's Sewing Social Twitter Chat (trending above the European football championship, thank you very much), it's high time we do it again!

Sunday 29th July
8 - 9pm London / 3 - 4pm New York / 12 - 1pm LA etc

On Twitter using the hashtag #sewingsocial
My Twitter name is @TillyVanilly if you want to follow me ready for kick off
Tip: Tweetchat is a really useful platform for following hashtag threads without having to refresh the page

What shall we talk about?
This month's topic will be learning to sew:

  • How did you first learn to sew?
  • How do you continue to develop your skills?
  • What do you think of IRL classes, online courses, videos, books, blogs, photos, diagrams...?
  • What puts people off learning to sew?

"But I live in Australia / Asia so I'll be asleep at that time..."
I know, I'm really sorry but I can't find a time that will please everyone :( So how about someone from that side of the globe volunteer to coordinate and lead the same chat but at a different time? Then you could create a Tweetdoc of the conversation, email it to me and I'll add it to the debrief post so we can link them up and share results. Anyone want to do this? You can organise a group in the comments.

And finally...

I'm going to be a bit quiet this week. Firstly because I'm going to have rubbish internet connection for a few days. And secondly because my hand looks like this and I'm really struggling to type. I stupidly stabbed myself in the hand trying to remove an avocado stone - what an idiot!! I hit a nerve which has made one of my fingers partially numb, partially experiencing a horrible pins and needles sensation - really not very pleasant. Apparently nerves take ages to heal though, so I'm just trying to get used to the feeling :(

So basically I'm going to be a bit quiet for a few days, checking in when I can. In the meantime it'd be really great if you could help keep up the momentum for the Sewing Social by reminding people on your blog, on Twitter or whatever. Thank you!!

[Soundtrack: 'High and Dry' by Radiohead]

20 July 2012

A Day in the Life of Megan Nielsen

I know I say this a lot, but I'm so excited about this month's Day in the Life! Megan Nielsen is an independent clothing and sewing pattern designer who recently moved back to her native Oz from the US. Her patterns are such a delight with so much thought put into the design and packaging. Megan manages to juggle running her own business with looking after her young family. I know you want to know what time she goes to bed. Read on, dear readers...


"I’ve always hated sewing patterns, but loved sewing. It’s such a unique craft, that allows you to express yourself and create art you can wear! Over the past few years I’ve launched four collections in my clothing line, and I’ve become involved in the fashion and sewing blogging communities. Through that I started to see that there were many other women sharing my frustrations with commercial sewing patterns. Still the same boring designs, flimsy paper (that is impossible to get back in the envelope) and instructions that may as well be written in Egyptian hieroglyphics. It led me to dream a new dream – a line of patterns that were intrinsically linked to fashion and actually easy to use.

So last year, I launched a line of sewing patterns based on the designs from my clothing line, and my favourite maternity designs from my pregnancies. I love the idea of linking fashion and sewing more closely! It’s hard to balance work and having a young family, so I work from home so that I can maximize the quality time I get with them. I have two gorgeous toddlers, a 4 year old girl and 2 year old boy, that I like to call Bunny and Buddy. My days are good – but very hectic, and I often feel like there are aren’t enough hours in the day! But that’s okay – because these are exciting times!

I wake up every morning at about 6:30AM when I hear Buddy talking to the Kookaburra’s that are singing outside his window. They’re an Australian bird, and their wake up song is like laughter. There are lots of Kookaburras, Galahs, Kangaroos and Blue Tongue Lizards in the Swan Valley where we live, 40 minutes outside Perth, Australia. The Swan Valley is known for its wineries, horse farms and the natural Australian bush surrounding the Swan River as it winds its way from the hills down to the ocean. It’s amazing that just outside of a city like Perth we feel like we are in the bush.

I roll out of bed, get Bunny and Buddy up (Bunny has more often than not been dreaming about elephants), and we snuggle on the couch while we wake up. They drink Milo (it’s a malted chocolate drink), and I have the all important first coffee of the day. I should probably admit right now that I am powered by coffee. I normally forget to have breakfast, but I never ever forget coffee hehe.

My hubby Chris heads off to work, at a tech startup in the heart of the City – and the kids have breakfast while I check a few emails as the sun comes up.

By about 8:30 the kids and I are ready for the day. Even though I don’t go to a traditional workplace, I always always get properly dressed. But I suppose that’s not surprising – as a designer I’m incredibly passionate about clothing – so getting dressed in something fun and different each morning is important to me. Funnily enough – I feel like that 15 minutes of effort puts me in a better frame of mind for the rest of the day. My wardrobe is mostly designed by me – so I’m always wearing at least one thing I’ve made. I like that.

Mornings are my quality time with the kids. We try and do a few fun activities like baking, crafts, going to the zoo or the childrens museum, shopping (that’s fun because we get donuts hehe) etc. It’s an important time of their lives so I want to build as many special memories as possible. We live really close to a wildlife conservation zoo – so we go there pretty regularly, and I feel very lucky that they can have wonderful experiences like hand-feeding the kangaroos.

At around 11:30 am we come home for lunch, or have a picnic we packed. Our neighbourhood is rich in parks, so we often find a nice patch to sit down and eat. Buddy normally eats all his lunch, and then mine too. But that’s okay.

By the time 1:00pm rolls around we’re all getting pretty tired (is it okay to admit I’m the most tired? hehehe), so we head home for a rest. We all pile onto the couch together, and I read books to them until everyone is relaxed – and then my little guy is ready for his nap. One of my favourite things is the lullaby we sing – my parents made it for me when I was a baby.

While Buddy is sleeping, I spend some time with Bunny doing her lessons – and then she has her quiet play time and a rest, while I work. I make myself (another, ahem) coffee, and get cracking. I work on new designs, checking and finalising new patterns, and answering emails. I like working on the pattern drafting during the day because the light is so good. Right now I’m doing the final checks on a new pattern I’m very close to releasing.

Nap time is usually over by 4pm, and then the kids play together (normally outside… again. They can’t seem to get enough of it) while I make them dinner, and then we sit around the table and chat about the day while they eat. I love the ridiculous / cute things kids say – they are so entertaining!

Once Chris gets home he looks after the kids so I can do some more work. They play ridiculously silly games, while I head outside to catch up on emails, do some blogging and take a walk for inspiration.

I get the majority of my inspiration from the Australian outback – so I don’t like to be disconnected from it for too long. One of my favourite places to sit and sketch is at a spot in the Swan Valley where the Swan river comes close to the Darling Ranges hills. There’s an aboriginal memorial park, and it’s an incredibly inspiring place to go. The traditional Noongar people believe that the river and the hills were created by the Dreamtime serpent Wagyl – and that it’s body carved out the shape of the river. Honestly, this landscape can’t help but take your breath away – and I feel lucky to live here.

I feel like it’s a really important part of my day - taking time to be inspired and come up with new designs. Since I have a fashion line in conjunction with patterns, the two are very linked.

Once the little ones are asleep Chris and I get some time together – we sit outside on the patio deck and have a coffee or a glass of wine and laugh about the day together and all the silly plans we have for the future. We call them our “deck dates” and they’re pretty much the best thing ever. After that, it’s more work. I run around quite literally. I’m attending to emails, working on marketing, sewing samples, drafting and working on new patterns. Chris works on logistics and filling orders. I can’t remember the last time I watched TV! We head to bed at around 1am when Chris tells me I have to go to sleep now and starts turning off the lights hehe.

It normally takes me ages to fall asleep because I’m thinking about everything I have to do tomorrow, making plans and dreaming about the future. It’s hard to make the brain shut down and I always seem to have way more ideas than I can implement.

So I guess that’s a pretty standard weekday for me! It’s busy – but I love it! I’m so excited to see where my business is going – and I can’t believe that in the few short months since I launched my patterns we’re already so so busy. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I realise I’m doing this thing that started as a little dream– and that it’s almost outgrown what I can handle on my own. That really excites me!!"


Wowzers. In future when I think I'm too busy I'm going to channel Megan's energy. Are you in awe of this superwoman as much as I am?! 

If you fancy trying out a Megan Nielsen sewing pattern, enter the code TILLY to get 15% off.

And if you enjoyed taking a sneaky peek into the daily life of a crafty business lady, there are 13 more to read about here...

17 July 2012

What's On My Sewing Table...


I'm carefully refashioning a gorgeous silk vintage dress with four leaf clover print. It has such darling little details that I'm reluctant to cut out, such as handworked loops for bra straps and lining attachment. But it's been sitting in my wardrobe unworn for years, so hopefully a mended zipper, sway back adjustment and new neckline will breathe new life into it. Fingers crossed in time for an upcoming wedding so I don't need to buy a new dress! Have you ever taken scissors to a vintage garment?

What's on your sewing table, please?

[Soundtrack: 'I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone' by Elvis Presley]

15 July 2012

My Week with Sewing Friends

Chatting to fellow stitching enthusiasts online is nice enough in itself, but this week I've been lucky to have various IRL sewing socials too...

On Monday, I met up with Jen from Pretty Little Pictures, who was over visiting from Australia. The selfless martyr that I am, I took her to top tourist destination... Liberty haberdashery department. Somehow we managed not to buy anything but had a lovely time stroking the fabrics and talking about online sewing classes. I interviewed Jen for my old Stash Amnesty! series a couple of years ago, so it was great to meet up in person - and as with all stitcher meet-ups I've been on, it felt like we already knew each other.


On Tuesday, I went to a press "breakfast" (of cake - yum!) at Sew Over It, a gorgeous sewing cafe walking distance from my house. It was another opportunity to meet a former interviewee, owner Lisa, who I profiled a few months ago for A Day in the Life. Lisa gave us a demo of how to make a table runner, before setting us loose on the machines to whip up napkin rings. I honestly can't think of a nicer way to spend a morning than playing with a sewing machine, chomping on banana cake and comparing sewing injury stories with comrades. Plus Lisa was a joy to be around - such an absolute star that she's entered my mental list of Inspirational Women I Want to be When I Grow Up.

And look who else was there...

Karen in her St Clements Cambie Dress!

And many of you will know this lady too! On Saturday, Zoe was in town in her nautical chic finery, so we caught up with each other's plans and and threw some ideas around. The free vest pattern she recently published on her blog has already had over 700 downloads! Wow! Zoe's got some more exciting plans up her sleeve, I can't wait to follow her progress...

When I first started blogging, I must admit I was a little embarrassed to describe someone as "one of my internet friends", but no longer! I feel so fortunate to have been able to meet such awesome people and have them in my life. Thank you, internets!

[Soundtrack: 'Song to Woody' by Bob Dylan]

10 July 2012

Life's Too Short Skirt

My sewing philosophy is that life is just too short for slip stitch. Perhaps that's part of the reason I fell head over heels in love with this Summersville fabric, gifted by Annie at The Village Haberdashery. The freestyle line design is just begging for slapdash machine topstitching, and who am I to argue ;)

Spot the slapdash topstitching... (bet you can't)

A truly stuck zipper

I made this simple gathered skirt partly using Gertie's tutorial, partly adapting it. I only stitched one long edge of the waistband before attaching the skirt pieces and zipper, so that I could close the sides of the waistband over the zipper, keeping it all looking neat and saving some of the waistband ease. (That sentence will only make sense if you follow the tutorial!) I had a bit of a mishap with the invisible zipper, which got stuck while I was trying it on. I had to literally rip it off myself and buy a new zipper, being careful to reduce the bulk at the waistband, which was where it seemed to be catching.

Apart from that, it was simple to make, and I even made friends with my serger in the process! Check out my lovely finished seams...

[Soundtrack: 'I'm Wondering' by Stevie Wonder]

6 July 2012

Your Picnic Blanket Skirts

The Pin and Thimble                                       Kim-ing

It's awesome to see Picnic Blanket Skirts popping up all over the internet! I love how cute it looks in all these different fabrics. These ladies are making me want to whip up another... and another... and...

If you want to sew your own this weekend, here's part one of the tutorial.

[Soundtrack: 'Don't Leave Me [Ne Me Quitte Pas]' by Regina Spektor]

3 July 2012

Unwrapping Papercut Patterns

Have you heard of Papercut Patterns? It's always exciting to discover a new (to me) sewing pattern company and I was particularly intrigued when I stumbled upon this line. Owner Katie sent me a pattern to try and - even though I'll have to wait a few months to sew and wear it - I couldn't resist the Watson jacket, which has a sweet little "capelet". Don't you just love that word? Capelet! Mmm...

Papercut Patterns takes a completely fresh approach to packaging design. The patterns come in a square box with cut out details, opening out to reveal a hanger. Could you hear me oohing and ahhing as I opened the box? The pattern instructions are printed on huge sheets of recycled paper, the same paper the patterns are printed on, the idea being to cut them yourself into a little booklet. The paper itself has a nice weight to it which won't rip easily. The instructions are given in an encouraging, friendly tone, with little tips thrown in. Handily for my fellow Brits and others, the fabric size requirements are given in both metres and yards.

But enough gushing from me - let's have a mini interview with designer Katie herself...

When did you start Papercut Patterns and how did you get into it?

Katie: "I first came up with the idea in 2008 while I was working in a fabric store in Auckland, New Zealand. I constantly had young stylish girls that were really into fashion asking me where they could get current sewing patterns. Because I had always drafted my own, I hadn’t really noticed the massive gap in the market. I guess you could say I had a light bulb moment, however to turn it into a reality there was a lot to be done! Firstly I had to move my life from Auckland as it was too expensive to live there while setting up as I was also supporting my then 7 year old daughter on my own. I moved back to my hometown Blenheim which is a small rural town in the South Island of NZ. My dad made a space for me in the corner of his business where Papercut began. It took me a while to set up, as I didn’t have any capital to start the business and had to do everything myself.

I started by designing my collection, then by the time I’d taught myself to use Illustrator and Indesign, designed my packaging, logo and website, I was really over my original collection so started again. Finally in September of 2010 I launched my business!"

The first thing that struck me about the patterns was the amazing packaging. What was your thinking behind the package design?

"I wanted my patterns to be a completely different experience to anything that was already on the market. I absolutely love beautiful innovative packaging and I wanted it to be something people would be excited to open.

I wanted to bring in a real designer at home feel. In a fashion workroom patterns are always drafted on brown paper and hung on a hook. Originally I wanted to have a proper pattern hook included in the package, and I bought 10 from an online store to work out how I would package them up…still to this day I haven’t received those hooks after numerous emails to the company I bought them from, however it made me think more creatively as to how I would achieve what I wanted.

I woke up in the middle of the night one night with the design for my envelope. Once I had that developed, I needed to figure out how I was going to punch the holes in each pattern piece for the string to go though to hang them up. The holes are still to this day all individually punched by hand.

My packaging has evolved a lot since I first launched, I am constantly making changes so that it is more functional."

The packaging and patterns are printed on recycled paper. Is environmental sustainability an important consideration for your business?

"I think that sustainability is something our generation really needs to think about. We need to be more aware of our impact on resources. I love that people are getting back to making things for themselves and I think it’s important that we care more.

I encourage to recycle any left over scraps. There are so many ways this can be done other than just putting them into a recycle bin. Paper scraps can be used for kids to draw and paint on. You can make cute little origami animals, and fabric scraps can be used for all sorts of things, even as fillers for cushions.

I also like to promote using natural and renewable fibres, not only do they feel and look better, they are better for our environment. I’m not sure how available it is over there, but I’m a huge user of NZ Merino Wool, it is such an amazing fibre! You can put it in the washing machine with everything else, it’s warm, light and sustainable!"


How would you describe the style of the garments that people can make with your sewing patterns?

"With my first collection I wanted it to be a basics range, patterns that you can make many times in different fabrics without it being too obvious it’s the same garment. If you look at most designers, they have repeat garments they release in different fabrics and prints each season.

I have been very vague in my fabric recommendations, as I want people to realise that they can put their own take onto my pattern, they are essentially the designer… for example, my Milano Cape has been made in a heavy wool coating, but you could make it up in a lightweight drapey silk and it be more like cape shirt dress. Depending on what you make your pattern up in, it can look like a completely different garment."

Which is your favourite of your sewing pattern designs and why?

"That’s a hard one, I wear them all! My Milano cape with Merino leggings underneath were especially great during my pregnancy last winter! The pleated pants are a wardrobe staple of mine, and I have a circle top in every colour of Merino possible! My all time favourite though would have to be my sleeveless Watson Jacket, I love it and wear it all the time!"

Thanks, Katie! Y'all, take a look at the rest of the pattern line, there are some lovely modern designs... including the really intriguing Circle Top! UK peeps can buy them from Sewbox.

1 July 2012

Help! Is it Time for the Repairs Shop?

UPDATE! Thanks to my lovely readers, it's fixed! Just saved myself three million pounds! Wooop!

Readers, I need your help! I usually try to keep this blog positive (who wants to read about other people's problems, eh?), but today I just want to scream... arrrrrrrgggghhhhh! I think my sewing machine is broken. And what are friends for if not to offer help and advice when needed? If anyone can help me with this I'd be really grateful.

The feed dogs are laying low, so my fabric won't move when I try to sew. Can you see that massive gap between the feed dogs and needle plate? I cleaned it the other day so there's no lint or anything stuck in it. I think it might be a problem with the feed dog lever or spring or whatever makes it go up and down. It moves, but only an eeny weeny bit.

Is it time for the repair shop? Can you recommend a sewing machine repairs place, preferably in South London (somewhere near Brixton), alternatively Central London (near Oxford Circus)? Am I going to have to pay three million pounds to get it fixed?!

This is especially irritating as I was getting really stuck into my pussy bow blouse and was hoping to have the final toile finished today. And just as I realised the machine was broken, the rain started pouring on what was previously a sunny day in London :(

Thank you so much to everyone who chipped in and helped me fix my machine - I love you guys!