29 August 2013

Autumn Sewing Wish List

As lovely as it is to roll up my sleeves, lie in the park and eat ice lollies every day, I do so look forward to Autumn. There's something about the crispness in the air, the cosiness of knitted jumpers and of course the joy of coloured tights which I simply adore.

Dressmaking plans and schemes that accompany a new season are always exciting too. This Autumn my wish list of sewing projects includes:

1) a coat like this gorgeous sixties one you can now make at a Sew Over It class
2) the classic looking Tyler shirt by new sewing pattern company Named
3) this 1972 Valentino sewing pattern that's been sitting in my stash staring at me and pleading to be made in a snuggly double knit
4) a simple jersey Breton dress like this one from Toast
5) a Mathilde dress hack like Em's red version
6) and the Watson jacket by Papercut Patterns with a very particular source of inspiration which I will reveal when I finally get around to cutting it out.

What are you planning to make this Autumn, please?

[Soundtrack: 'Autumn Sweater' by Yo La Tengo]

27 August 2013

Meet My New Sewing Machine!

Look what I've got!!! A shiny new Janome 6600 Professional, courtesy of the good people at Janome themselves. I LOVE this machine!

Up until now, I've sewn at home on a Janome J3-18, a basic cheapo model that I got when I didn't know whether sewing was going to be a passing interest or a long-term love affair. Well, you know the rest of that story. The J3-18 has served me very well for the last few years and has done everything I needed it to do, and I'd still definitely recommend it to others starting out or on a budget. Yet it's great to finally have a professional machine to work on.

So how is the 6600 Professional different? Well, the first thing you notice is the weight. Cripes, this bad boy is heavy! While I can easily swing the J3-18 around and about between surfaces, I've had to give the 6600 a semi-permanent spot to save my back (I'm only little). I consider its heft an asset rather than a hindrance, reassuring me that its guts are strong, and that it can sew through practically anything.

Indeed, the sewing experience is totally different. So smooth! So sturdy! So digital! My older model was a mechanical machine, whereas this one has stronger needle "penetration power" (behave). It includes a crazy number of fancy stitches, comes with a huge set of presser feet (hooray!), and does lots of wizzy things such as memorising stitching sequences and automatically snipping threads. Like, what?! It does feel a bit like cheating, but I'm not complaining. I haven't yet figured out how to programme it to make me a cup of tea... anyone know where that button is?

And did I mention that the Janome 6600 Professional is also a looker? Swoon. I'll still keep my J3-18 as it's good to be familiar with a machine suitable for the beginners that I teach to sew, but right now it's getting a well-deserved rest...

23 August 2013

Udon Dress

So I was in a Japanese noodle bar in Soho the other day, admiring the super-stylish denim utility aprons worn by the staff, and wondering what they reminded me of... hmm... now what was it? Oh yes, that sack dress I was halfway through making! The dressmaking project that had left me feeling ambivalent suddenly seemed appealing again thanks to the sartorial wisdom of whoever designed the restaurant's uniforms. Japanese utility chic with a seventies twist? Yes please.

I omitted the self-made fabric belt in favour of a leather one to break up the block of colour and add definition at the waist (it really needs it!). I stitched a single patch pocket on one side to keep my chopsticks pencils in. It's still not the most flattering dress in the world, and the way the fabric bunches around the belt annoys me a little. But I have definitely warmed to it and have a suspicion it could become a uniform of my own, it's so easy to wear.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you come around to a project you weren't sure about after being inspired by seeing something similar on someone else?

[Soundtrack: 'Ping Pong' by Stereolab]

20 August 2013

Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops

Like many DIY dressmakers, a major factor motivating me to make my own clothing is an ethical conscience. I love clothes, yet the adverse impact that fast fashion can have on both our natural environment and the lives of the people working in the industry makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. The Bangladesh factory disaster, which killed 1,127 people who were making garments for the high street shops we know all too well, served as a nasty reminder of what can happen when cheap clothing is considered more important than the welfare of human beings. While my own spending habits are by no means perfect (I should really spend more on ethically-sourced fabric, for example), I do endeavour to take a mindful approach to consumption myself and to support work to encourage sustainable consumer habits more widely.

Which is why I'm proud to be backing Craftivist Collective's latest project for War on Want's Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops campaign. In advance of London Fashion Week, Craftivists are asking people to stitch mini protest banners with messages related to the exploitation of sweatshop workers. These banners can then be hung in public spaces, and photographed for a display at this Autumn's Knitting and Stitching Show. If you'd like to part of the project, take a look at their website for more details.

For more on the Craftivist Collective, take a look at my interview with their founder and my report on what a great time I had at one of their stitching events. And big thanks to Sarah for featuring me as Miss August in their Craft Crush series.

16 August 2013

Japanese Sweet Dress Book

My obsession with Japanese sewing books continues. Is this the best one yet? Quite possibly. Will I actually make something from it this time rather than just drooling over the images? Hold the front page - I just might!

Sweet Dress Book, written by Yoshiko Tsukiori and published in the UK by Laurence King, includes six sewing patterns from which you can make 23 different designs by mixing up the pieces. My favourites are the tie-back tunic from the cover, a sweetheart bodice gathered dress and a pleated bodice dress. As with most Japanese pattern books, the instructions are stripped down to minimal words and illustrated with technical diagrams. Half way through the book there's a cupcake recipe. Random! Oh yes and there's a kitty in some of the photos. What more could you desire?

[Soundtrack: 'Dig This Record' by Jesca Hoop]

13 August 2013

Folksy Rules OK!

This week started off with a bang! I had such a productive day yesterday, which I put down to feeling inspired and refreshed after spending the weekend in some woods in Yorkshire with 200 lovely designer makers at the Folksy Summer School.

I gave a talk on Crafting Your Blog, which was great fun, alongside an amazing line up that included Doug Richard of Dragon's Den fame, Sinead from Crafty Fox (who has an exciting guest post coming up on this blog), Emma Jones from Enterprise Nation and lots of other awesome peops. It was such a wonderful atmosphere of makers supporting other makers, sharing tips and tricks over halloumi burgers and ice lollies. I got to hang out with the Mollie Makes team, learnt to crochet with Frank & Olive Crochet, met lots of lovely readers of this here blog (hi!), including one pair who'd come all the way from Denmark, and I even spotted a Mathilde Blouse on Sarah! I left buzzing with ideas and aglow from new friendships made.

A few cool things I discovered over the weekend that you may be interested in, whether you're a maker, blogger or run your own craft business:

- Pick up some tips on product photography at Lyndsey James' workshops
- Step back in time at The Button Tin, a vintage sewing wonderland run by the lovely Gemma
- Discover beautiful knitting patterns by Jess Biscoe aka Jessica Joy
- Get marketing help for your craft business from the awesome Claire and Polly at Handmade Horizons
- And general props to Camilla from Butterscotch and Beesting, Andy from vinegar & brown paper and John from Smithery.

Oh and not forgetting Folksy, the online marketplace for modern British craft! We're already pestering James the CEO (or "Captain" as he prefers to be called) to start organising next year's Summer School...

Were you there? Did you have a good time? Hope to see you next time!

[Soundtrack: 'By Your Side' by CocoRosie]

9 August 2013

What's On My Sewing Table...

Seventies stunner or shapeless sack? To be honest, it's touch and go right now.

I felt like I'd struck gold when I found this pattern at Simply Fabrics, my local in Brixton. It's a rare occasion that I find vintage (aka "old") sewing patterns in London shops in the first place - if you know where I should be looking BTW, pray tell. I usually get mine online (my sponsors Vintage Pattern Marketplace, So Vintage Patterns, Patterns from the Past and The Polished Button have some extreme vintage pattern goodness going on).

You'll probably know by now that I lurrrrve 1970s chic, adore a good wraparound, and the ladies modelling this pattern look particularly stylish. Swoon. But now that I've cut out the fabric and started piecing it together, I'm not so sure. Will the dartless bodice send me to sartorial heaven or frumpsville? I'll keep you posted...

What's on your sewing table, please?

PS. Have you SEEN Emily's Mathilde blouse dress hacks? Seriously thinking about ripping off that red dress for my Autumn wardrobe...

[Soundtrack: 'Fitzpleasure' by Alt-J]

6 August 2013

Fabric Shopping Online: Hints & Tips

Buying fabric online can be a great way of accessing a wider range of options than may be available to you locally. Moreover, shopping from home can save you valuable sewing time… and you don’t even need to get out of your (handmade) PJs. I’ve had a few emails and comments asking me to share my tips for successful online fabric shopping – so here goes, and do share your own tips in the comments…

1) Take advantage of search categories
If you’re not careful, browsing online fabric shops can suck up a significant part of your lifetime – mmm… so much pretty fabric to look at… But take a moment to work out what sort of thing you’re looking for, use the search categories, and it could take only take five minutes. For example, I usually just look under categories such as ‘red’, ‘Nani Iro’, ‘stripes’ and ‘kittens’, natch. Work out your own favourite categories and it’ll be speedier than scrolling through every option online, and certainly much more chillaxed than walking the aisles in an IRL store.

2) Request swatches
The biggest thing you miss when shopping online is the chance to touch the fabric and get a sense of qualities such as texture, thickness and drape. Moreover, colours often look different on a computer screen to real life, and online photos don't always provide an idea of scale of print. So before you order five metres of that eye-catching lobster lawn, it’s a really good idea to request a sample first. Many shops are happy to send out a few swatches either for free or a small admin charge (just don’t abuse your sampling privileges!). Some also have a "swatch club" where you are sent a whole booklet of swatches for an annual fee. If you’re not too hot on your different fabric types, I highly recommend Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book as an invaluable online shopping companion.

3) Check the width
Before placing your order, don’t forget to check the width of the roll to make sure you’re buying enough fabric for your project. Some fabric shops are targeting quilters in particular, so often you’ll see options to buy “fat quarters”. Don’t let this put you off – if you buy four fat quarters, that will usually mean you get 1 metre / yard of fabric as a continuous piece, but do check first whether it's a metric or imperial quarter.

4) Keep an inspiration board
If you see a print you adore but know you can’t buy it straight away, pin it to a Pinterest board or bookmark it for later. That way next time you need some new fabric, you can begin by looking at your favourites first rather than starting from scratch. Beware though – often I’ve found that a few hours after I’ve pinned a fabric I like the look of, it’s done the rounds on Pinterest and sold out – doh!

5) If in doubt, ask!
Not sure if that linen will work for your dressmaking project? On the hunt for that elusive lobster print? Want to find a lining to match? The internet can look faceless at first glance, but don't forget that behind that website there's a person or team who are passionate about fabric and excited to help their customers. If you've got a query or a specific request, drop them a line and they'll usually be more than happy to help.

So those are my tips. As for where to shop, some of my favourites are featured in the right hand column of this blog!

Do you have online fabric shopping tips of your own to share?

Fabrics shown in these photos are from various sources including Ray Stitch

2 August 2013

A Day in the Life of The Thrifty Stitcher

One of the best parts of being a blogger is getting to meet incredibly inspirational people who get to sew all day for their job. Taking a peek into their everyday world is what the Day in the Life interviews are all about. This month I'm excited to introduce you to Claire-Louise Hardie, the sewing consultant on The Great British Sewing Bee. Not only that, but CL is also a talented costumier and runs her own sewing studio, The Thrifty Stitcher, where I taught a Miette skirt workshop this Summer. Wanna know how she fits it all in? Let's find out...


"I’d like to say big thanks to Tilly for including me in such an amazing and inspiring group of stitchers. I feel very honoured to be here. I live in Old Street in Central London, in a small flat with my fella Tim. Luckily for me I have a 350 sq ft sewing studio in Stoke Newington, so I escape there to do my creative stuff. I’ve been sewing all my life, and has given me an income my entire adult life. I can’t imagine never sewing again, it’s both my job and my passion.

As a freelancer I juggle several roles, so really my days are never the same. Here are the jobs I juggle:

1. Freelance Theatre Wardrobe Mistress and Costumier - most recently for the play The Audience at the Gielgud Theatre. This involves preparing Costumes before each show. I’ve been lucky enough to have toured the globe - I’ve pressed togas in Michigan for Sir Patrick Stewart, fixed trousers in New Zealand for Sir Ian McKellan and darned Vanessa Redgrave’s hem in Greece.

2. As The Thrifty Stitcher I teach sewing in my lovely studio in Stokey. My passions are helping people conquer their fear of the sewing machine, and making dressmaking simple.

3. Sewing Advisor to BBC2’s The Great British Sewing Bee. This involves sourcing tools and fabrics needed throughout the series, collating and researching patterns, and answering lots of questions the production team have about anything sewing related. I’m excited about the forthcoming second series which is my next big project, but I’m sworn to secrecy about the details.

The strangest thing I’ve ever sewn was a silver leather jock strap for a dancer. That was an awkward fitting… The sewing I’m most proud of - it was a real privilege to sew my sister’s wedding dress and help her have the dream dress she’d designed. Things I wish I’d never sewn - as a teen in the 1980s I made a lot of very hideous clothes. Thankfully none of them exist today to haunt me.

My morning starts anywhere between 7am and 11am, depending on the day ahead and what I’m juggling. I am definitely not a morning person, so I try to do all the mundane tasks first thing. My “weekend” is a Monday, and that’s when I have a lie in. I cannot start my day without breakfast, usually just cereal, or porridge, and I need at least two cups of black tea before I’m human!

Before setting out for the day, I catch up with my admin. I usually need to plan the logistics of the day’s tasks, as I am not only juggling roles, but different locations too. Late morning I try and do any shopping or class prep at the studio, as this is near to my home. Running a small business means wearing many hats, so once I get to the studio, I mop the floor, make sure the biscuit tin is full, organise patterns /materials and get the room ready for classes.

I squeeze a lot into every day, and eat my lunch on the run. I’ll have some salad or soup and coffee. I’m very lucky with the location of my studio, it’s opposite a fabulous park, and if the weather is dry, I’ll sit out in the park to eat lunch. Just a 15 minute breather in the fresh air really clears my head! Once I’m done with lunch it’s a bus and tube hop from Stoke Newington into the West End. Travelling gives me time out, and I try and carry a book so I can zone out. I’m a total crime nut, and have worked my way through a stack of very gory books.

My afternoons are spent preparing the costumes for the evening performance. Unlike regular clothes, costumes in the West End are worn every single night, and anything next to the skin needs laundering and pressing every day. Items like dresses and suits are pressed or steamed every day. There’s around 3 hours of pressing/steaming and sock matching on The Audience every day… Luckily I have a couple of assistants help me with this.

At the end of every show there’s a list of repairs to do before the next one. If I’m lucky this is just a loose button, but I’ve had days where sleeves have ripped out, loads of hems are down, shoes need cobbling, and there’s a massive rip to be darned. On those days, I have to ensure I allow extra time to get everything done in time. In the past that has involved some very scary sewing, including finishing sewing a new zip into Dame Helen Mirren’s dress 15 minutes before it was needed!

Between 5.30pm and 6.15pm I usually get a break, and often this is when I’ll try and catch up with all the things that inspire me, whilst I eat my dinner. It’s so easy to get bogged down with work, that you don’t keep up with the things that make you happy. Throughout the evening I am on standby in case an understudy needs costuming, or a repair crops up last minute. I have been called to the stage to sew up Peter Pan’s trousers whilst he swung above me in a harness. My evening ends at around 10.30pm after I’ve sorted all the washing.

On Sundays I try and hang out with my man, as he’s on tour and we don’t see each other through the week.

The best advice I’d give anyone wanting to start a sewing business would be to follow your heart. Sewing for a living isn’t the same as sewing for pleasure, and you need to be prepared to sacrifice having a hobby. Having sewn professionally for 21 years though, I can’t imagine doing anything else."


Aw... thanks for sharing your day, CL! Readers, catch up on more Days in the Life of inspirational stitchers, including Tasia Sewaholic, Lucie Summers and Sublime Stitching.