31 January 2013

How to Use Digital Sewing Patterns

How to use digital sewing patterns

If you’re new to digital print-at-home PDF sewing patterns, this post will guide you through the simple steps to turn the file on your computer into a full-size paper pattern.

While assembling a digital pattern does add an extra step to your sewing project, there are soooo many benefits to using them:

  • They’re cheaper to buy than hard copy patterns, as you’re not paying for professional printing, packaging or postage
  • If you accidentally cut the wrong size or spill your tea all over it, you can reprint the file
  • You can support independent designers who can’t afford the costs or minimum print numbers involved in hard copy patterns
  • You can get your hands of them instantly as soon as you get that urge to sew!

You will need:

For A0
  • Home / office / copy shop printer
  • A0 paper
For A4 or US Letter
  • Home / office / copy shop printer
  • A4 or US letter paper
  • Paper scissors or guillotine 
  • Glue stick or tape

For both A0 and A4/US Letter, download your pattern and save to your computer files. Open the file in a PDF reader such as Adobe Reader, which you can download for free. Other PDF readers are available, but you may find that some scale the pattern to the wrong size (see below).

Scaling is super important! You need to ensure that the pattern is printed at full scale so your garment turns out the size it was intended to be. Just a few % out and your garment could end up annoyingly tight.

30 January 2013

Introducing... the Mathilde Blouse Sewing Pattern!

Readers, I’m soooooo excited to share this with you! You can now make your own version of my button-back blouse – aka the Mathilde Blouse!

After numerous requests – and months of resizing, tweaking, testing and writing the most comprehensive instructions you've ever seen – I’ve finally finished perfecting a multisized digital version of the pattern for you to print and sew at home. The pattern costs is available RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!

The Mathilde Blouse is a cute and versatile garment with an understated elegance. Loose fitting with vertical tucks, gently puffed sleeves and button-back opening, it works well in lightweight drapey fabrics – from cottons to rayons to silks (if you’re game!). Team with bright buttons to create a surprise when you turn around! Dress me up with a pencil skirt or dress me down with skinny jeans. Check out some Mathilde Blouses already made – both by me and by my wonderful testers (thanks you guys!) – in the Maker Gallery.

The pattern comes with not one but TWO versions of the instructions:

1) Simplified paper instructions
If you’re an experienced stitcher and just want to crack on with it, you can print out a simplified, text-only summary of the instructions. Complete with handy tickboxes to celebrate your progress!

2) Detailed digital instructions
If you haven’t sewn many things before, or if you are a visual learner, or if you would just like some guidance with a particular technique, the digital version of the instructions will hold your hand at each stage with step-by-step photo tutorials. Over the next few weeks, a new post will be added to the How to Make a Mathilde Blouse web page almost daily, building up to form a sewing workshop in everything you need to know to create your own version. We will cover various topics and techniques along the way, from understanding interfacing to fashioning beautiful tucks, from setting in a sleeve to stitching French seams. You can sew along as the posts go live, or you can bookmark the page and revisit any page you need whenever you need it. Check out everything we’ll be covering.

Get your Mathilde Blouse sewing pattern here!

Thank you soooo much to everyone who has helped me with this - Mel, Claire, Suzy, Sarah, Lauren, Sarah, Zoe, Marie, Mai, Helene, Jaimie... and last but not least James and Sara R xxx

[Soundtrack: ‘Mathilde’ by Scott Walker]

29 January 2013

Sewing Construction: The Basics

This post is part of Learn to Sew, aimed at beginners.

When I first started sewing, the biggest head-scratching moment for me was when it came to putting my first garment together. I wore clothes every day (you’ll be pleased to hear) – but I’d never considered how the pieces of fabric had been put together to create the garments in the first place. I have a distinct memory of day one of my sewing class, pinning together my first dress and very nearly sewing the armholes up - simply because I hadn’t got my head around what I was doing, nor why I was doing it.

So I want to make an attempt at answering some of the questions my brain was screaming at me when I first set fabric to machine. Hopefully the answers may help novice stitchers understand some of the basics of sewing construction.

You’ve prepared your fabric. You’ve cut your fabric to your pattern. You've threaded your machine. Now we’re going to turn those flat pieces of fabric into a 3D form that you can hang on your body. This is where magic happens!

Okay so I’ve cut my fabric… now what?

Now you need to put the pieces of fabric together. Your pattern instructions will tell you which bits need to be sewn to each other.

The pattern is telling me to place them “right sides together”. What does this mean, please?

When you join two or more pieces of fabric together, the line of stitching usually goes on the inside so that it’s hidden when the garment is worn. So when you’re pinning fabric together ready to stitch it, you need the sides of the fabric that will form the inside of the garment to be facing outwards, and the sides of the fabric that will be on show to be facing each other. The inside is referred to in sewing terminology as the “wrong” side, the outside as the “right” side.

So an expression you’ll come across a lot in sewing instructions is “right sides together”. If it’s not written, it’s usually assumed. (An example of when you would sew “wrong” sides together would be when you’re making French seams, but don’t worry about that for now.)

Do I just put the pieces on top of each other?

If you’ve got two pieces of fabric that need to be sewn together along a certain seam, say the side seam, place the edges of that seam together exactly. Sometimes they’ll match up easily with your fabric pieces staying nice and flat against each other. Other times it may look at first glance that the edges won’t align - for example, if you’re attaching a convex curve to a concave curve - so you’ll need to mould the fabric in such a way that the seams do match.

Most patterns include notches on the side seams, marked by either a tiny triangle or a little perpendicular line. These serve as little markers to help you align your pieces of fabric together. Snip these marks into your fabric when you cut it out. A single snip is a better idea than cutting the whole triangle, IMHO – firstly, it’s quicker, and secondly, it’ll make your fabric less likely to tear or distort out of shape. Make sure they’re shorter than your seam allowance so they won’t show on the outside of your garment. These little snips will help you align your pieces accurately when it comes to assembling your fabric pieces.

Now keep it all in place with some pins.

Which way do I stick the pins in?

If you’ve got nimble fingers, pinning perpendicular to the edge of the fabric with the heads sticking towards outwards will allow you to whip out those bad boys while you’re stitching. Okay, so this will only really save you a few seconds per seam, possibly an hour or two over the course of your lifetime – so not essential. But it looks really cool if you can do it!!

No one’s going to judge you on the angle you put your pins in though. Personally I chop and change between parallel and perpendicular to the seam line – sometimes diagonal if I’m feeling particularly wild - depending on what I’m stitching.

What is essential is to remove the pins before they reach the sewing machine needle. Sometimes you can get away with sewing over pins, but there’s always a chance the needle could snap and fly in your face – not a good look!

Professional stitchers often avoid using pins altogether unless absolutely necessary. But as far as I’m concerned, pins are my friends, and if you’re new to sewing you should make friends with them too!

What’s a “seam allowance”?

You probably know what a seam is - the extra space on the other side of the stitching line, which ends up on the inside of the garment. The seam allowance is the amount of extra space allowed on a pattern - and thus on the pieces of fabric that you cut - for the seam. Your sewing pattern should tell you what seam allowance has been added. A standard seam allowance for sewing patterns is 5/8” or 15mm (often ½” in the fashion industry - saves fabric!). When you take your fabric to the machine, keep the edge aligned with the 5/8” or 15mm mark to stitch at the correct seam allowance.

Which bits am I actually sewing together?

To avoid repeating the Tilly mistake of nearly sewing up your dress’s armpits, before you sew, stop and think for a second (or a few minutes!) about which part of the garment the seam line corresponds to, and thus what it’s going to look like on the outside once it’s sewn together. I know this can be tricky when you’re not used to thinking about how clothing is made. What really helps is taking an active interest in the clothing in your wardrobe – turn some garments inside out and notice how the pieces have been attached to create the final shape. It’ll make a lot more sense once you’ve sewn a few projects, I promise!

I hope this helps explain some of the things that can throw you as a novice stitcher. If something still doesn’t make sense, do leave a comment and I’ll try to explain. Equally, if you’re an experienced stitcher and have a brilliant analogy for explaining construction concepts to a novice, do share!

Like this? Read more Learn to Sew.

27 January 2013

The Mathilde Blouse in Chambray

*Update: Due to popular demand, the sewing pattern for this blouse is now available to buy*

You know the button-back blouse that I keep making? Well, I've finally given it a name! It's now called the Mathilde Blouse. (Long story. Short version here.) This is my latest iteration - this time in Chambray. I'm so glad the pattern works in a casual cotton as well as elegant silk... or cheapo poly, in my case (ssshh!).

Mmm... lovely wooden buttons to go with the Chambray. I love look of the linear tucks juxtaposed with the gentle puff of the sleeves (does that sound really pretentious?!). Plus I sewed French seams on all but the armholes, so the blouse looks as pretty on the inside as it does on the outside.

I think I was about to topple over in this one...

Oh my goodness, I love this blouse so much! I just can't stop making it!

[Soundtrack: 'Matilda' by alt-J]

24 January 2013

A Day in the Life of Rochelle - Lucky Lucille

For this month's A Day in the Life, we get to be a fly on the wall chez Rochelle from Lucky Lucille, one of the sweetest, most colourful sewing bloggers there is! Rochelle has launched her own line of delightful homemade accessories in gorgeous prints that match her personality so perfectly. Want to find out what it's like to sew for business on a daily basis? And what she wears while she's doing it, of course. Read on...


"I was lucky enough to grow up in a home with a sewing machine so I suppose it was inevitable that I carry on the crafty tradition in my family. The first job I got after moving to Vermont was at a quaint fabric and yarn boutique. That experience, paired with Vermont’s genuine enthusiasm for small business and handmade, inspired me to start selling my accessories full time at local craft fairs and online. This whole 'I’m the boss' thing is quite new to me, but so far it’s been a real dream come true! I can’t wait to take Lucky Lucille to the next level, and I have big plans for 2013! (I suppose I should specify that Lucille is my rescued pup and the love of my life! The other love of my life is William, who plays an important part in this whole story too. I’m so very lucky to have his support through all of this!)

I set my alarm for 7:30 every morning so I can check my email first thing and package up any orders I may have received over night, and have them ready to ship off with Wil on his way in to the office. I work from a studio space out of our home and we share a car, so Wil is kind enough to do Post Office errands for me. If I don’t actually need to get out of bed at 7:30, Lucille and I snuggle and lay around for an hour or so before starting our day. I usually wear comfy clothes such as leggings or fleece pants and a sweatshirt when I’m working since sitting down and sewing for hours on end isn’t the most comfortable thing to do! Plus, wouldn’t you work in your PJ’s all day if you could get away with it?

A morning walk with Lucille is the first thing on my agenda. It’s the middle of winter in good ole’ New England right now so our walks have been really quick! (Lucille hates the cold.) After that, I make myself some tea or hot chocolate, paired with toast or a muffin and a few eggs. Lucille gets her breakfast while mine is cooking, and I usually make an extra egg for her as a treat. As I eat I like to check my social media stuff and reply to blog comments and things like that.

Mondays are my 'prep days' that I spend setting myself up for a smooth productive work week. They’re not exactly scheduled, but here are the things I generally try to complete on Mondays:

1. Thoroughly clean my house and do all the chores that might distract me later.
2. Write out a long list of goals, deadlines, and other general “to-do” things that I want/need to accomplish for the rest of the week.
3. Schedule a few blog posts in advance so I don’t have to worry about blogging during the week.
4. Answer emails and keep up with social media platforms.
5. Research! I have a lot of plans for 2013 as far as new products and things like that, so I’ve been researching and collecting inspiration for styles, fabrics, etc.
6. Work on some personal non shop related sewing – aka ME projects! This helps me get excited and motivated for the rest of the week!
7. I hope it’s obvious that showering and other personal hygiene habits fall on this list somewhere too ;)

I usually do all these things while half watching/mostly listening to a movie or TV show on Netflix. Right now I’m mildly obsessed with 1940’s Film Noir and BBC’s Top Gear! I try not to give myself numerical time frames to work from because I have a terrible concept of time and it frustrates me when I feel like I’m working against the clock. I do however like to keep a general structure to my work day, and that all goes something like this:

Tuesdays and Wednesdays start very much like Mondays, except after I finish breakfast I take a shower straight away and then get right to working. I like to work assembly line style, meaning I’ll spend all of Tuesday cutting out pieces so I can spend the rest of the week sewing them together. I set up the iPad on my sewing table so I can listen to music or some TV while I work, and Lucille settles down for her mid morning nap. This is usually around 10am. I’ll work until lunch time and then make myself some soup or a quick microwave meal. While I eat I check in with Will via Google chat to see how his day is going, and try to beat my brother in Words With Friends (that doesn’t happen often). Then I take Lucille out for a walk. When there isn’t 3 feet of snow on the ground, we like to walk for a mile or so on the trails near our house. As I mentioned, it’s very snowy and cold right now so usually these walks are more of a run to the side yard and back. But when the weather is warmer, I really love a nice long walk with Lucille in the woods. It’s the perfect way to break up the day.

After lunch and a walk, I get back to working and Lucille gets back to napping. I’ll sew, cut, sketch, plan, trace patterns, or whatever I was working on until around 4pm when I take a break until Wil gets home at 5:30. During this time I like to read, knit, or browse around online to clear my head and recharge. Lucille usually starts getting antsy around this time too and decides I need to pay attention to her instead of business. When Will gets home, he’s around to keep her occupied as I finish up a few things before dinner. Will usually cooks unless I have a slow cooker meal ready from that morning (my chicken and biscuits are always a hit!).

After dinner I package up any orders from earlier in the day and put them near Will’s desk for the morning. At this point I’m only selling items that I have pre-made so everything that sells will usually ship the next day. After I write myself a note of where to start for the next morning, the rest of the night is mine. I’ll read, knit, catch up on blogs, or watch an episode of something to relax before bed. Some evenings I’ll go snowboarding for an hour or two after dinner since we live really close to a ski resort! Another perk of living in Vermont ;) Sometimes I like to work later into the night if I’ve gotten a late start that morning, or had errands to run during the day, but usually I’m in bed between 10:00 and 12:30.

On Thursdays and Fridays Will takes Lucille into the office with him so she can have a social day and I can get super focused! It’s hard sometimes to stick to a schedule with her in the house. She’s a very good girl, but she has her needy days just like the rest of us haha ☺ I save the weekends for any product or blog photos that I can’t get without Will’s help, and also for stocking up on supplies. I like to support the local small fabric shops often.

Well, that’s pretty much what my days look like! I’m working on going back to school online for business, so we’ll see how that factors in to the schedule when I start.

I feel very blessed to be able to call this my job, and I’m eager to grow it into a career. Slow and steady wins the race, they say! I have a lot of goals for 2013, including turning a few of my accessories into PDF patterns, selling wholesale to local shops, and designing more fabrics for Spoonflower! I also feel extremely blessed to know so many creative and encouraging women online who have supported me and helped my success. I’m one lucky girl!

Well, thank you so much for reading, and thank you Tilly for having me! It’s been an honor and a pleasure ☺"


Aw it was lovely to have you, Rochelle! Our lifestyles are pretty similar really - I read Bloglovin after dinner, you go snowboarding after dinner... Wait, what?! How awesome is that?!!

Want more Days in the Life? Catch up with previous posts from the likes of Gertie, Tasia Sewaholic, Sublime Stitching, Colette Patterns and many more lovely ladies!

20 January 2013

Marking and Cutting Fabric

How to Cut and Mark Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

The other day a good friend who is learning to sew asked me how to go about transferring sewing pattern markings onto fabric. There are loads of different ways of doing it, and everyone has their favourite method. Let's talk through some of the options...

Marking tools

How to Cut and Mark Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

Test out a few different marking tools to see which ones you prefer. Test them out on your fabric too - different fabrics will respond differently to different markers, so try them out on a small scrap of whichever fabric you're using to check that 1) it shows up enough for you to see it, but 2) it won’t stain the fabric permanently!

Washable pens → These pens are cheap and widely available in multi-coloured packs (check the children’s department in stationery shops). They show up well on lots of fabrics and will come out in the first wash (though do check first!).

Tracing wheel → Place dressmaker's carbon faced down on your fabric, lay the pattern on top, then use a tracing wheel to trace the lines onto the fabric. Nifty!

Hera marker → This little gadget, used a lot in quilting, scratches a little groove into fabric fibres, which will come out in the wash.

Chalk pencil → Usually available in white, blue and pink, chalk pencils are easy to use, and they rub off fairly easily - which is both a pro and a con, depending on which way you look at it.

Tailor’s chalk → These chalk triangles have slim edges and are useful for making quick, smooth lines onto fabric and pretending you work on Saville Row.

Other options for marking include tailor’s tacks and disappearing ink.

Cutting tools

How to Cut and Mark Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

I’m a big advocate of making do, but if you want to get yourself a proper cutting arsenal, this is what you’ll need:

Dressmaking scissors → Invest in a nice, sharp pair of dressmaking scissors which will glide through fabric easily. Keep them away from paper to keep them sharper for longer.

Rotary cutter → Optional and a matter of personal preference. A rotary cutter is useful for speedy cutting and for fabric that slips and slides around easily. Watch out for that blade though – ouch! Keep fingers and toes away and keep it closed when not in use.

Embroidery scissors or thread snippers → Keep these handy for snipping your threads.

Paper scissors → To keep your dressmaking scissors sharp, have some dedicated paper scissors for cutting out your patterns.

Pinking shears → Not shown here as I don’t have any, but some people like using pinking shears to cut a zigzag edge on seams for a speedy finish.

Cutting mat → A seriously good idea if you don’t want to scratch your kitchen table!

Cutting methods

Righto, so now let's talk about how to use these tools to cut out your fabric.

The key to accurate cutting is to keep your fabric as flat as possible against the table. Take your time when cutting and use the hand you’re not cutting with to gently hold your fabric in place.

How to Cut and Mark Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

Option 1) Pins + Dressmaking Scissors

Cut the pattern pieces out with paper scissors – either exactly on (or just within) the lines, or leaving some extra paper around the lines. Pin the pattern pieces to the fabric – use enough pins to hold the pattern in place, but not so many that the pins distort the pattern or fabric.

Now cut the fabric with dressmaking scissors. If you’ve cut the pattern pieces out roughly, cut directly on the lines through both pattern and fabric. This can dull your fabric scissors though; but on the other hand, it can be more accurate than cutting around a pre-cut pattern.

How to Cut and Mark Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

Option 2) Pattern Weights + Chalk/Pen + Dressmaking Scissors/Rotary Cutter

Cut the pattern pieces out with paper scissors precisely on (or just within) the lines. Instead of pinning the pattern pieces in place, this time use weights to hold them in place. The idea is that weights keep the pattern and fabric flatter than the pinning method. You don't have to buy specialist pattern weights - you can use whatever you have around the house, such as food tins.

Draw around the pieces with a sharp chalk pencil or washable pen. Remove the pattern and use dressmaking scissors or a rotary cutter to cut the fabric just within the pattern lines you've just drawn.

How to Cut and Mark Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

Option 3) Pattern Weights + Dressmaker's Carbon + Tracing Wheel + Dressmaking Scissors

This is my favourite way of marking and cutting fabric, particularly when I don't want to cut into my pattern. Hold the pattern pieces down on the fabric with weights. Slip a piece of dressmaker's carbon between the pattern and fabric, face down against the fabric. Trace over the pattern lines using a blunt tracing wheel moving the dressmaker's carbon as you need to.

Remove the pattern. Cut out the fabric directly on the traced lines using dressmaking scissors.

As well as marking the cutting lines of the pattern, don't forget to mark in the other bits and bobs such as darts, buttonholes and gather points.

What's your favourite method of marking and cutting fabric?

If you'd like some more help getting started with sewing patterns - from cutting through basic clothing construction - try our online video workshop, Learn to Sew Skirts.

16 January 2013

Chunky Corduroy Moss (Not Too Mini) Skirt


Finiiiiished!! The Moss Mini Skirt - or Not Too Mini Skirt in my case - by Grainline Studio. This was my first time working with a pattern by Grainline and I must say I really enjoyed both using this pattern and the novelty of diverting my sewing away from my usual choice of self-drafted, Colette or commercial patterns. The Grainline pattern line seems to fill a niche for simple (in a good way), modern and wearable patterns aimed at younger stitchers. Having said that, I did lengthen my skirt significantly (3" in the end, in the middle rather than adding the hem band), so I'm clearly too grandma for the target demographic!

The skirt has some lovely style lines, such as the triangular back yoke pointing towards a centre seam. The silhouette is still fairly straight though, which makes it relatively simple to fit. The only change I made to the shape was to cut a triangle out of the top of the centre back seam, as I have a sway back / protruding derrière [delete according to preference]. If - or more likely when - I make this pattern again, I'd probably fit it to my waistline as opposed to this iteration's hipster fit, and would add belt loops before sewing the waistband (mmm... belt loops).

The fabric is a mega chunky tomato red corduroy which I bought on my Goldhawk Road splurge* that Jane forced me to go on. (Okay, so it may have been my idea, but all the same, Jane is a bad influence.) As the fabric was so thick, I decided to make the pockets, pocket facings and waistband facing in a medium weight Summersville cotton leftover from my Life's Too Short skirt. Even then, the thickness of some of the layers - particularly around the zipper - played havoc with my poor little humble sewing machine. Needles were snapped. Bobbins were scratched. (I know!!) Expletives were uttered. And a random little nubbin was left at on the fly opening. But we got through it, and I LOVE the result.

I have a funny story about sewing a fly zipper which I will regale you with one of these days. But until then, let's admire my lovely skirt. Definitely cake.

*Speaking of fabric splurges, I will be exercising extreeeeme will power at Stevie's Walthamstow meet-up on 2nd February. I'm gathering up some lovely patterns and fabric to bring to the Swap. Hope to see some of you there!

[Soundtrack: 'Grandma's Hands' by Bill Withers]