30 July 2013

The Grass is Always Greener Top

Have you ever started one dressmaking project only to change your mind mid-process and end up with something totally different? I was all set to make an elasticated waist batwing dress - this one, to be precise - using this dreamy Elk Grove organic (yes, organic!) knit (yes, knit!) from Birch Fabrics. I'd been thinking about it for weeks, had sourced the elastic, and it was all cut out and ready to go. Yet when I pinned it together and looked in the mirror to check the fit, well... it just seemed a bit too... no, not elky... but a bit too green.

Not that there's anything wrong with green per se, obvs, but I recently resolved to stick to a signature style colour palette (which I can share more on if you're interested), and green doesn't feature. A bit of green is fine, but a green dress may be a bit "off message", as marketeers would say.

So I decided to just sew together the top half and make a simple batwing top. I do so like a good batwing top. Once I'd decided what to do, it took less than an hour to put the whole thing together using my overlocker. I finished the neckline with a facing as I didn't want to break up the print with a band or a line of stitching. If I make this again, I'd lengthen the hem and take some of the curvature out of the shoulders (is it for shoulder pads??).

With the scorching hot weather we've been having in London recently, there's something so comforting about slipping into a snuggly long sleeved top sometimes. I know, I know, the grass is always greener...

[Soundtrack: 'Steel Your Girl' by Neon Neon]

26 July 2013

Nautical Sewing Patterns

Ahhh... nautical chic. In case you hadn't noticed, this is one of my absolute favourite looks. I tend to err on the side of more subtle nautical, mainly of the Breton variety, but I do so love the sailor look in all levels of extreme. So, if you share my passion, which sewing patterns might you want to make?

Isn't this a stunner? I pre-ordered the Bonny Knit Sailor Top from Cake Patterns as soon as I saw it, and it's inching towards the top of my "to sew" list. Designer Steph's version is just perfect.

Burda 8488 makes a great pair of sailor style jeans, seen here made by Beatrice from Butterflies and Hurricanes. Want!

When I designed the Marielle skirt pattern for Sewing World magazine, I definitely had us nautical lovers in mind. Which reminds me I need to make this in my own size so I can actually wear it...

Sailor sewing patterns of the vintage variety abound on the likes of ebay - such as Simplicity 1011 (which long term readers may remember as my former blog header) and this one (available on ebay at time of writing).

More trousers, this time Simplicity 2654 made by Handmade Jane. Stunning or what?

The Sailor Girl Playsuit by Wearing History is seriously cute. Perhaps a bit full on for me, but swoonsome nevertheless.

And finally, after drafting this post I saw that Gertie is hosting a Sailor's Blouse video workshop on Creativebug Inc - woop! Reeeeally want to make this...

Have you seen any other nautical chic sewing patterns we should know about?

[Soundtrack: 'Sail Away Ladies' by Odetta]

23 July 2013

I Can Make Shoes!

You guys, I CAN MAKE SHOES! Look at these sandals - designed and constructed by moi, with more than a little help from Amanda, owner of the aptly titled shoe-making workshop studio I Can Make Shoes. I was jumping up and down when an invitation came through to a special one-to-one with Amanda herself. Just what I need to finish off my DIY outfits - DIY sandals!

So how do you make shoes? Lucky for us, Amanda has devised a simple method that allows people to make shoes at home with minimum special equipment. We began with a size 4 sole template, played around with a few design ideas, turned them into simple paper patterns and wrapped them around my foot to see what they'd look like. Soooo much simpler than pattern drafting for dressmaking! Next we transferred the shape to leather, drawing around the pattern with a biro pen and cutting out with regular scissors - Amanda uses tools that people have at home where possible. We hammered some holes out of the soles for the straps to pass through, and assembled all the pieces with glue. Ahh... the glue... deliciously thick and gooey neoprene-based adhesive - or "liquid wetsuit", as Amanda put it. It looked like Gremlin gunk and was a JOY to play with.

It really was one of the best days I've had in a while. It was so much fun to go in totally clueless, to have no idea what I was doing, discover that it isn't so difficult after all, and walk out with a pair of sandals that are totally unique, that fit me perfectly and that I absolutely LOVE. I made a few novice mistakes - such as forgetting to cut straps for the second shoe, doh! But it was all part of the experience, and I left feeling sooooo pleased with myself, with the same feeling of empowerment I felt when I first learnt to sew. Remember that feeling?

Thank you so much to Amanda for a fab afternoon, for patience while I spent about an hour deciding the order of the coloured straps, for the laughs, and for sanding down my rubbish leather cutting. Oh, and for making shoe-making so easy!

If you want to exclaim, "I can make shoes!" too, check out the awesome workshops in Hackney and e-books they offer. I'd highly recommend the sandals as an introduction for beginners. I'm seriously considering buying some liquid wetsuit and making a few more pairs.

Next I just need to learn to make brassieres, then I can have a whole handmade outfit...

[Soundtrack: 'New Shoes' by Paolo Nutini]

19 July 2013

Featured! In Lovely Magazines

My lurrrrrve for Betty has grown stronger by the day since I first discovered the magazine, so I was hyperventilating with excitement when they requested an interview for their stunning Summer issue. Flick through the most dreamy fashion shoot ever (Breton shorts anyone?) and a recipe for scotch eggs, and right at the back you'll find moi, talking sewing inspiration and how I attempt to channel Benjamin Franklin's productivity strategy. Yip. Plus the magazine still smells amazing.

Crafty is another magazine that has me jumping for joy. Headed up by Sarah Adie, whose Day in the Life features here, it fills a real gap in the market (and on the newsagent shelves) for a publication portraying craft as cool. The current issue features a piece written by moi on tips for newbies wanting to teach themselves to sew. I'm delighted that this isn't just a one-off - they have invited me to become a regular columnist (not every month, but I'll be in the August issue), joining the likes of Sarah Corbett from Craftivist Collective and Mr X Stitch. Yowzers!

The latest issue of Sewing World, out today, includes an article all about sewing blogs. Written by the lovely Fi from The Sewing Directory, it features me, Rachel House of Pinheiro and Lily's Quilts sharing our top tips on blogging. Can't wait to get my hands on a physical copy to see what the others have to say! I'll be sharing plenty more tips during my talk at the Folksy Summer School.

Just one more thing. With the sad news that Cloth magazine is closing (I know!! Can you believe it?), it's more important than ever to support the magazines that represent our interests. I'll be sure to keep buying the craft mags that I love, and maybe try some new ones too. Which magazines do you think reflect your lifestyle? Anything new we should be checking out?

[Soundtrack: 'What a Man' by Linda Lyndell]

16 July 2013

A Day in the Life of Grainline Studio

Don't you just love Grainline Studio? Their sewing patterns are modern, semi-androgynous (in a good way) and wearable styles, and the blog never fails to inspire. Jen Beeman is the brains behind Grainline, juggling her business with a part time job as patterncutter for another company. "But what's in her sandwich?" you enquire. Read this month's A Day in the Life to find out...


"Hey guys, Jen here from Grainline Studio! I’m pumped to share a day in my life with you, though I’m still not quite sure what a typical day for me is I’ll do my best. Each week I have two types of days. The first is when I’m at home working on Grainline Studio and the second is when I work as a patternmaker for a local designer. I’ll start with Grainline Studio first.


The majority of the week I work from home on Grainline Studio. On these days I usually get up around 8:30 or 9am. I’ve never been much of a morning person so my day skews towards the later hours. I roll out of bed and head straight to the tea kettle before I even think about doing anything else. After some tea is brewed and consumed, my brain begins to function properly and I can change out of the pajama situation into something more appropriate for working. I have a bit of a studio uniform, skinny black jeans cuffed twice, a tank, an oversized t-shirt, button up, or sweater depending on the season, and softsole Thunderbird Minnetonkas. At that point I usually check my email, blog reader, etc. out on the back porch while drinking tea until I feel like I can eat breakfast. I’m one of those people who can’t eat right away after waking up, but once I do I also have a seasonal breakfast uniform. Summer time is Greek yogurt, homemade granola, honey, and berries, and winter is oatmeal with brown sugar, dried fruit, and chopped nuts. I just love a good rolled oat, what can I say.

After breakfast I start working on one of various projects depending on what I have going on at the moment. My studio space is in my apartment so I don’t have to travel far to get to work. I got incredibly lucky and landed a cute 2 bedroom apartment in a beautiful neighborhood so the smaller bedroom (which honestly I would call an office) houses my machines, desk, and computers. I don’t have much of a living room, instead of a couch or TV I have an industrial cutting table and a stool. To each their own I suppose, though you’ll see the problem with this setup when I describe my typical evening later on. My rolls of paper, fabric, and rack of patterns are out in the living room studio area as well.

What I’m working on from day to day varies immensely depending on what I have going on at the moment. It could be anything from sketching new designs, drafting and testing new patterns, working in Illustrator on new patterns and technical illustrations, sewing up variations on existing patterns, or photographing new garments. I’m sure there are a million more things that I am forgetting as well. I also am semi-obsessed with Instagramming so that happens a lot during this time, perhaps you’ve noticed.

I don’t have a designated lunch time, I just take a break when I’m hungry which occasionally means forgetting to eat, but I’ve been obsessed with this particular sandwich lately. Toasted bread (gluten free for me!), a fried egg, feta, Valentina hot sauce, half an avocado, salt, and pepper. I literally cannot get enough of this sandwich. While eating lunch I check my email again and sort of regroup on what I’ve gotten done so far and what I still need to do. After lunch I usually turn off NPR and start listening to music while attempting to finish my endless to-do list. I keep working in this manner until around 6 when I go for my evening run. I’m really into the evening run with no music. It gives you time to digest and reflect on your day and really clear your head. I have a 4 mile loop I do around my neighborhood that I’ve finagled to go down only the most garden filled streets. When I get back from that, I shower, eat dinner, and unless I can rope someone into going for gelato with me at our local gelato place, Black Dog, I quite possibly start working again writing new blog posts or doing accounting work until I go to sleep. That usually happens sometime between 1 or 2 am if I’m lucky.


Long before I started releasing sewing patterns and actually before I had even begun blogging, I started working at my current job as patternmaker at Alice Padrul Bridal here in Chicago. I actually had to look at my resume to see when I started working for Alice - 2008. I fell into this job while I was still in school when one of my patternmaking professors had to leave and offered me her job there. On the two days a week I work for Alice, I don’t have to be at work till 10 so I usually get up, have some tea and breakfast, relax around the house with my cat and maybe check my emails or do some crosswords. I usually leave for work around 9:30 and I’m lucky enough to be able to walk there so long as it isn’t raining.

Once I’m there I’m on my feet all day drafting patterns for new dresses for our line, drafting or correcting custom client patterns, and assisting Alice with muslin fittings for our brides. Around 1 I’ll take about a 15 minute break for tea and yogurt then get back to it. We’re in our busiest season now so there’s always a million things to do. We have quite a lot of vintage dress reworkings and reproductions at the moment as well as a few historical projects we’re working on that are really interesting. As the only native English speaker there I’m also responsible for the company blog. At 5pm, work is over and I walk back home to continue on with Grainline Studio work. I’m pretty into this job, Alice is a really talented designer and artist (you should see her watercolors) and I often refer to her and her husband Gene as my Russian parents to my friends and family. When I slammed my finger in my door one afternoon at home it was Gene who drove me to the hospital. They really are a sweet pair - I really hope everyone is lucky enough to work for someone so appreciative and caring at some point in their lives. It’s amazing how much harder you want to work for these people!

Having your own business can be an incredibly rewarding and stressful endeavor. The fact that any success I have is directly related to the amount of hard work I put into the business is both amazing and terrifying, but ultimately pretty empowering. I sort of just fell into this though requests for the patterns of garments I’d posted when Grainline was nothing more than my personal blog but now that I’m doing it, I know for certain that there is nothing else I’d rather do. Every time I get an email from someone who loved a pattern or see a new garment made from one of my patterns I’m so excited. I keep waiting for it to get old but it literally never does. I love that I’m enabling people to have confidence in their own ability to do things themselves successfully and the pride they can take in that. As far as any advice I’d give to someone looking to start their own business - imagine how hard you think you’ll work, then multiply it by 10. Follow your instincts, try not to doubt yourself, and be honest with yourself and others. Talent is great but talent without work ethic is nothing. It doesn’t hurt to pick up a hobby completely unrelated to your business either. You’re going to need it!

As far as what’s next for me, more patterns, more tutorials, and we’re inching towards those printed patterns I’ve been talking about forever. It’d be great if I weren’t such a perfectionist!"


Jen, you are officially awesome. Readers, check out Jen's new Lakeside pyjama pattern - want!

If you reading A Day in the Life, catch up on previous posts with other fab people who have turned their love of stitching into a career - including DIYcouture, Victory Patterns and Ohhh Lulu.

12 July 2013

Your Miette Skirts

Can you hear me squeal each time I see a new version of the Miette skirt pop up on the interwebs? You guys are so great at choosing lovely fabrics! Check out these beauties...

Becca's pretty Miette was made from an unusual fabric...
"While digging through my fabrics, I came across a vintage sheet that I'd happened upon about a week earlier. I could almost hear the material saying, 'Use me!' The pattern was wonderful to work with. The instructions are clear and the photos of the construction process provided on Tilly's blog make sewing Miette a breeze. The only change that I made to the pattern was to omit the center seam. There just wasn't enough material to match the floral pattern at the seam on the center front, so I cut one skirt front on the fold. I have at least one other version of Miette in the works. My plan is to use another print: a white material with large black dots."

This lovely lightweight denim version by Jen of Tea for Two wouldn't look out of place in my own wardrobe. Jen says:
"I had been pondering which pattern to use for a denim or chambray skirt that would sit on my waist and be perfect for summer. Ginger? Beignet? Hmm. When Tilly released Miette and beautiful versions started popping up on the blogosphere my mind was made up. The gorgeous front bow sold it to me! The pattern and instructions are brilliant. Tilly’s online instructions, complete with numerous photos, mean there’s no second-guessing yourself. And it’s such a fun skirt to make! I’m definitely considering a version for winter. I’m thinking a light corduroy, with a nice lining and perhaps a little contrast trim, would be excellent paired with knee high boots and a cosy sweater. Watch this space!"

Sarah from Berry Barn Designs made her stunning Miette in a bright print. She said:
"I'm a little hesitant when it comes to sewing knits or zippers, so I was happy to find the Miette pattern when I went looking for a wrap-around skirt to make myself for summer. It wasn't until I happened upon this bright, bold Alexander Henry print, though, that I really got excited to get started! TI also really love Mai's version, so I have some great denim set aside to make a second Miette for fall."

Plenty more on the Miette maker gallery on Pinterest!

9 July 2013

Handmade Holiday Packing

Packing for the holiday I've just returned from, it was an absolute joy to fill my suitcase with handmade clothing. While I cheered along the Me-Made-May self-made wardrobe challenge, this year I didn't participate quite simply because I knew my schedule that month would prevent me from taking regular snaps. These days, however, most of the clothes I wear on a daily basis are handmade anyway, which is wonderful! Participating in previous Me-Made challenges has certainly encouraged me to make home-sewn clothing part of my regular lifestyle, as has focusing on making everyday wear - sewing cake as opposed to frosting, to evoke Tasia's inspired metaphor.

Anyway, here are some of my handmade holiday outfits. Turns out the Miette wrap skirt is the perfect swimwear cover up to wear for the walk to the beach - I basically lived in it all week long. I'll admit that its practicality for the beach didn't occur to me while designing the pattern in rainy London, but it's good to know!

From top left:
Blue Swallows dress
Denim Ginger skirt
Red linen Miette skirt
Polka Dot Picnic Blanket skirt
Handpainted Breton + Life's Too Short skirt
Summery Mathilde blouse
Denim Miette skirt
1970s Dress for Summer

PS. Little Dress Kits are currently offering you a discount of 15% off orders if you use the code tilly15 at the checkout. Take a look at their super cute kids clothing sewing kits and patterns, including these darling dungarees!

PPS. Forgive me for not listing where my other clothes are from but I don't feel comfortable promoting shop-bought clothing on this blog - I'd rather you made your own! I will tell you, however, that my beloved red coral necklace is from Dinosaurland Fossil Museum, cos that's how I roll...

[Soundtrack: 'Everything Goes My Way' by Metronomy]

4 July 2013

Blue Swallows Dress

Finished! This is Simplicity 0331, designed by Cynthia Rowley, made in a gorgeous blue lightweight swallow print cotton, courtesy of the Fabric Godmother. Quite appropriately, I was surrounded by IRL swallows as I wore this dress for the first time on the beautiful island of Vis in Croatia. Swallows, butterflies, lemon groves, fig trees, crystal clear water, isolated coves... you get the picture. (Yes, returning to Brixton was a culture shock.)

Back to the dress - it's a lovely loose-fitting, floaty design, very forgiving after a week gorging on researching the best ice cream flavour on the island (coconut, since you ask). I love all the gathers, which feature on multiple seams on this 13 piece pattern. Not the fastest make in the world then, particularly as I had to redo the yoke gathers three times when baste fitting the bodice, but one of those sewing projects that is a real pleasure if you're not in a hurry.

Next time I make it - and there will be a next time, I've already got a floral print red mystery fabric in my stash earmarked for this pattern - I might change the sleeves. I really love the loose-fitting sleeves, but while they look great on the model in the pattern illustration, combined with the other flouncey bits they kinda drown my small frame. Maybe I'll shorten them a little or add a cuff. But I'm not complaining - I still love this dress!

PS. Wishing my American readers a very happy Fourth of July tomorrow!

PPS. Going through my holiday snaps, I came across this one of seagulls tailing our boat back to the mainland. If only I'd had the foresight to take my dress photos in front of this background...

[Soundtrack: 'Sexy Boy' by Air]

2 July 2013

Guthrie and Ghani: Snapshots

Some snapshots from a lovely day spent chez Guthrie & Ghani haberdashery in Birmingham last month when I was there to teach a Miette skirt sewing workshop. The students were great fun and it was such an amazing venue in which to get crafty. It was wonderful to catch up face-to-face with Lauren and her lovely hubs Ayaz, seen here modelling a tie he is sewing himself! It was also the first chance I had to have a proper look around the shop. The last time I was there the place was so crowded and I was so busy at the cutting table that I didn't actually have the opportunity to see what was in the shop. It is soooooo amazing, you guys! So pretty and light and spacious yet jam packed full with sewing and knitting goodness. Have you been there yet?

In other news, my next workshop is Learn to Sew: Tilly's Bow Belt at the Village Haberdashery in North London on Monday 8th July at 6.30 - 9.30pm. There are still spaces available so if you're an absolute beginner and want to get to grips with your sewing machine, make a cute bow belt and have a fun evening, come along!

[Soundtrack: 'Don't Leave Me [Ne Me Quitte Pas] (Russian version)' by Regina Spektor]