29 November 2013

Tips for a Novice Knitter?

Do you knit? What books, patterns, websites and other resources would you recommend for a complete novice? I'm thinking of learning to knit and could do with some tips on getting started. How should I begin?

I did try to start knitting once before, a few years ago, but I was rubbish at it. At the time I found the repetitiveness of the activity a bit boring too, so I didn't persist with it. But now I feel that a quiet repetitive action is exactly what I need to help me chillaxercise. I'm feeling more relaxed just thinking about it...

So what would you recommend I look at? I literally know nothing about knitting needles, wool, patterns etc, so any tips or recommendations for easy ways to start would be really appreciated. There's a massive sale on Craftsy classes on at the moment, including this beginners' knitting class which I'm thinking about signing up for. Aesthetics-wise, I prefer chunkier knits to fine ones, both modern and vintage styles, and have an irrational aversion to multicoloured wool or wool with bits in (is there a name for that?). What should/could I make?

Thanks for your help!

26 November 2013

Sneaky Peeks of Watson in Progress...

It took most of the day to cut out (phew!), but now that I'm at the sewing stage my Watson jacket is coming along nicely. As much as I like quick and easy sewing projects, occasionally it's nice to settle in with a stack of CDs and a bar of Dairy Milk and spend a bit more time on something more involved, non? With lots of lovely details. Including bound buttonholes! Just as there is more than one way to sew a dart, there are various ways of constructing bound buttonholes, and I made these ones using a cross-between the methods outlined in Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing and Karen's e-book. Ooh they are lovely! 

Do you like the lining? I found it on a recent sewing blogger trip to Goldhawk Road when Jen was in town. Here we all are captured on film sharing what we plan to buy... oh erm... all except me and Janene who were clearly not concentrating!

Hopefully I'll have the finished jacket to show you before too long...

[Soundtrack: 'Sophia' by Laura Marling]

22 November 2013

Five or Six Ways to Sew a Dart

Just as there's more than one way to skin a cat (aw poor kitty!), there's more than one way to approach any sewing technique. When you're just starting out, following instructions from a book, sewing pattern or website on how to make something is a great way to learn. But don't be fooled into thinking that technique you learnt is the only way. Keep your ear the ground, as you'll probably discover multiple methods of accomplishing the same outcome. As your confidence grows, you might even invent your own technique - and that's awesome! I'm a big advocate of innovation and questioning convention (man), and it makes total sense to be creative when you're creating, non? That's why it's called DIY. In any case, I guess what I'm saying is be open to new ways of doing things and to do what works for you, rather than worrying whether you're doing it the "correct" way. (Because there's no such thing.)

Case in point, in the last few weeks I came across no less than five different ways of sewing a dart. Five! I love that. Each one had me ooh-ing with interest. Wanna know what they are? Here goes...

1. The Tilly
Okay, so this isn't one of the five, this is my starting point of the method I use. I didn't invent it, it's just my go-to technique. Although that'll probably change once I try out all the other ways listed below. In brief, with this method, you mark the dart legs on the fabric, start sewing from the outer edge towards the tip, stitch off the end and tie the loose threads in a knot. Hand-tying and then steaming the point will avoid creating a nipple bump. Phew.

2. The Christine
In Christine Haynes' Emery Dress sewalong, the approach she uses is to change the stitch length to 1mm to sew the last 1cm / 3/8" or so of the dart. The smaller stitches will stay in place so you don't need to tie them in a knot. Genius! (If you're still getting used to the sewing machine, just take extra care here as the smaller stitch length might lead to wibbly-wobbly stitches.)

3. The Katie
I came across an interesting tip in the instructions that accompany the Watson jacket sewing pattern from Papercut Patterns. Katie suggests pivoting around when your needle reaches the tip of the dart, and stitching half way back down across the flap of the dart itself, as a way of finishing the stitching away from the end so it's not left too pointy.

4. The Kristen
When I took a course in professional sewing techniques, we learnt lots of short cuts to maximise productivity. If you're sewing for fun, you can afford to take your time, but it's interesting to know a few tips and tricks of the trade. One such short cut was recently shared by Kristen from Colette Patterns. Instead of marking the dart on the fabric, pull the thread from your sewing machine needle towards you and - more importantly - to the tip of the dart. Use the thread as a stitching guide - sew in this direction to end up at the tip. Clever! This is definitely one for the more advanced stitchers amongst you, so don't be disheartened if you find it tricky.

5. The Anna
Anna from A Few Threads Loose shared a tip she learnt on another sewing course. This time, instead of sewing in a straight line towards and off the tip of the dart, you stitch a slight curve towards the end of the dart for a smoother shape. I must try this!

6. The Marie
And finally, Marie the Maverick defies convention by starting her stitching from the tip of the dart rather than the edge of the fabric. I don't do this myself, as I find my needle and bobbin thread all get tangled up together into a knot before I've even started. But somehow Marie manages it, so she wins ten points for sticking it to the man and going her own way. Yeah!

So there you have it! Multiple ways of achieving the same outcome. Do you know any other tips or tricks for sewing a dart? Whether it's something you learnt from someone else, or a method you made up yourself, do share!

19 November 2013

Un été couture / A Summer of Sewing

Drool... Look at how lovely this book is! Un été couture was a kind gift from Julie from one of my favourite blogs, Jolies bobines - go take a look if you don't already read it, she makes such amazing stuff. The book, by Géraldine Debeauvais (who wrote a little note for me inside the cover, merci Géraldine!), is bursting with super cute dressmaking projects for a Summer wardrobe. Gah, everything in it is just adorable!

It's in French, but don't let that put you off if you know how to sew but your language skills aren't up to it, as the instructions are illustrated with diagrams so you may be able to work it out. The 19 patterns are included in the back of the book, with overlapping pieces to trace off. They come in four sizes from 84cm (33 in) to 96cm (38 in) bust.

I think my favourite is the Robe Eléonore - the black one above with those diagonal buttons. I love the fact that it's almost 1940s chic but with a modern hem length and easy-to-wear elasticated waistband - I can see myself getting a lot of wear out of this, so it's definitely on my "to sew" list. There's also a dress named Mathilde, a name which I obviously approve of. I just love the model's face in that shot!

[Soundtrack: 'I'm The Man That Will Find You' by Connan Mockasin]

15 November 2013

What's On My Sewing Table...

On one of the last days of photography for my book, the designer of the book, who worked with me closely throughout the process, asked me how I was going to celebrate once it was all over. "Oooh I'm going to do some sewing!" I excitedly exclaimed. She looked at me absolutely flabbergasted. After months of speed sewing 21 projects plus countless toile iterations, I was looking forward to... erm... more sewing! "Woah. That's a testament to the strength of your passion," she replied.

And that time has arrived! I've submitted the book and, around sorting out the mess (both physical and metaphorical) that I left festering while I was in flow, and planning my next Big Project, I'm doing some sewing for myself. While the blogosphere is going wild over the latest collection from Papercut Patterns, I've been toiling, tweaking and prepping fabric for the Watson jacket from Papercut's first collection, which has been on my "to make" list for aaaaaages. (If you're in the UK, you can order Papercut Patterns from Sewbox.)

It has a capelet. Say that out loud - "capelet". Such a good word.

I'm making it in some pink wool as a homage to Suzy Bishop from Moonrise Kingdom. Homage, not exact replica. The fabric is a brighter colour and I'm sticking to the short length and double-breasted frontage of the original pattern. I haven't yet decided on what lining fabric to use. I might keep it simple with black polka dots on white, or I could go wacky with a crazy cotton print. Any ideas?

What's on your sewing table, please?

12 November 2013

Happy Homemade: Sew Chic + Sew Chic Kids

A couple more Japanese sewing pattern books to drool over - Happy Homemade: Sew Chic by Yoshiko Tsukiori and Happy Homemade: Sew Chic Kids by Ruriko Yamada. If you're familiar with Japanese sewing books (if you're a regular reader of this blog you will be by now!), they're exactly what you'd expect in terms of the one-page-per-pattern instructions with technical illustrations and minimal text, and the garment projects being mainly loose-fitting smock tops and dresses. Some seriously pretty smock tops and dresses, in fact. The kind of garments which make you feel like standing around gazing into your cappuccino like you're in the Toast catalogue.

The kids version features the cutest little munchkins I've ever seen! As usual, I'm coveting children's outfits more than the adult versions, but alas the patterns in this one only go up to 9 years old. These patterns are for boys as well as girls, so if you've got kiddos to sew for you're bound to find something just darling here.

Question for you. Under the "Basic Tools" section, of the 15 essential items of equipment listed are not one but two "bodkins". I'd never heard of a bodkin, but apparently it's used for threading elastic through a casing. Tell me, do you own a bodkin? Am I missing out?!

[Soundtrack: 'Grounds for Divorce' by Elbow]

8 November 2013

A Day in the Life of Plush Addict

It's time for another instalment of A Day in the Life, which takes us behind the scenes at a sewing business. This month, the lovely Kellie Rose gives us an insight into a typical day at Plush Addict, the fabric emporium she started herself last year and which has quickly grown to employ a whole team of people. What's it like getting to choose pretty fabrics as your job? "And is there an official term for the feeling of unbridled excitement one can experience when confronted with said fabric?", I hear you enquire. Let's see if Kellie has the answer...


"Plush Addict was a happy accident and I have my gorgeous 2 year old girl to thank for my blossoming online fabric business. I had a successful career in London for a software company but quit in search of something more fulfilling and started to train to become an acupuncturist. My acupuncture college went bust three quarters of the way through my first year of study and I then found myself pregnant! The world of opportunities for a pregnant, unemployed woman in her late 30s were quite slim and so I filled my time researching, planning and sewing for our new arrival. I discovered the wonderful world of modern cloth nappies (they are a million miles away from the white terry towelling square your mum used, honest!). These days cloth nappies can be beautiful works of art and I wanted to try creating my own. I was soon frustrated that you needed to shop in several different places (including the US) for the supplies you need so I decided to become a one stop shop for cloth nappy making supplies. The business took off from day one. We have expanded our product lines really extensively and now have a very diverse range of haberdashery and fabrics from quilting cottons through to waterproof fabrics,  which we sell online through our website to customers all over the world.

I get up at 6.45am every morning. I’ve always believed that rising before the hour of 7am means I’m being sleep deprived and I thought running my own business would mean a later start to the day, alas I was very naive! Mornings are always a bit of a rush to get us all washed, dressed and vertical but somehow we usually manage to cobble it all together and leave the house by about 7.45am and are at the warehouse by 8am.

I usually start the day with a strong cup of coffee and catch up on my emails and messages though our Facebook and Twitter pages. Managing social media and marketing is something that I look after and first thing I put together are photo collages and blurb for our social media posts. Once that’s all geared up I’m often found running round the warehouse with a laptop and a trolley checking stock, changing photos, doing colour matches and answering customer questions and doing any general fiddling jobs that I’ve spotted need doing.

After that my day can really go one of a few ways… Fabric buying is a big part of what I do and has to be pretty up there with one of *the* best parts of running Plush Addict. I’m the luckiest girl alive as the business gives me a completely legitimate reason to indulge my ridiculous fabric addiction. I know I’m not alone here when I say that fabric gives me a physical reaction when I see some I love, or when we get a delivery arrive my chest tightens, I get a bit flustered and I generally squeal high pitched and very loudly, something we’ve termed in house as a “Fabricgasm”!

Often I’m placing orders for things that are months away from delivery, yesterday I was perusing Christmas fabrics for 2014 which is pretty bonkers seeing as the decorations aren’t even up for 2013 yet. Buying so far in advance means a bit of crystal ball gazing as to what might be popular in a couple of seasons time so I am a slave to Bloglovin for hints and inspiration. I try to keep the range as diverse and rich in choice as possible. Not everyone likes the same things and I do try to plan our purchasing considering all tastes and I don’t just shop with my fabric loves in mind (I love the camp, kitsch and weird Japanese stuff - not everyone’s cuppa!). We're striving to be a “one-stop shop” where you can buy all that you need for your project in one place as we know how annoying postage charges are so I’m always on the look out for the next thing to add.

If I’m not fabric buying or researching then I’m probably found tinkering in Photoshop or writing a blog post. Recently I’ve had my head buried getting to grips with the Adobe Creative Suite which I have loved! It’s been a wonderful way to pamper my inner geek and be creative at the same time. It’s been a huge eye opener for me in to how fabric prints are designed and I have already started work on designing my first fabric. One of the more niche fabrics we stock is a waterproof fabric called PUL and we are hoping to launch our own range of PUL prints next year if all goes to plan (get me!).

We have a brilliant team of lovely local ladies that all work very hard to get our customer orders out on the same day they are placed. I’ve got the family roped in too and my mum (nick named Nanny Plush), my sister-in-law and hubby are all on board these days. The team all stop for lunch together around 1pm and it’s about the only time of the day we get to sit down so everyone relishes it. Lunch choice is about the only thing I miss from my previous life working in London, I even have dreams about Pret! The downside of having a warehouse full of fabric means we are on an industrial estate. There is a sandwich van that comes to visit but it’s not quite the same. We do make up for it with good coffee though. And cake. Lots of cake.

Since my husband Jon joined me full time in the business about a year ago, he now looks after the very important day to day operations that are needed to get all of our customer orders cut, packaged, checked and dispatched. We set ourselves tight targets for the speed we turn orders around in (who wants to wait for their fabric fix?!) and he’s way better at the practicalities than I am and actually thrives on the hustle which always stressed me out. It’s brilliant that we each get to play to our individual strengths and I do feel very privileged that we get to work together. The day gets pretty hectic around 4pm most days when we are trying to get all the orders in the post sacks before the postie comes at 5pm.

We usually leave the warehouse around 5.30pm. When we get home and after we’ve eaten and our little lady is in bed Jon and I usually carry on working. One thing about having your own business is that it’s very hard to switch it off and the evenings and weekends is when I’ll do most work on my blog writing tutorials or fabric guides. I do wish there was more time in the week for sewing but it does sadly seem to be the last task and gets squeezed in around everything else. We get way more time together as a family than either of our previous jobs would have allowed - on Thursdays Jon looks after our daughter and Fridays are my day off with her which is amazing. We both feel blessed that Plush Addict allows us this perk so evening and weekend working doesn’t feel like such a bum deal.

Next year we’re hoping to take the office space above the warehouse and set up sewing workshops and have a drop in social sewing space with big work tables and machines to use. I’ve been networking locally and have several very talented ladies interested in running classes and I hope to run some myself too (although that feels very scary!).

There’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes than you’d think and since starting Plush Addict my days have never been busier. I’ve never worked such long hours or been so consumed (and stressed!) by anything, but I wouldn’t change it for the world :)"


Aw... thank you for sharing your day with us, Kellie! Can I come over to play sometime? Readers, take a look at all the lovely fabrics that Plush Addict has on offer. I've got my eye on this flannel for some glow in the dark PJs - yes, glow in the dark!!

5 November 2013

Ikat Tova Blouse

Finiiiished! The Tova blouse by Wiksten, gifted by Backstitch, in a soft ikat cotton from John Lewis. I lurrrrve this blouse. I know I'm going to get loads of wear out of it - it's so comfortable and easy to wear. (Do excuse the dishevelled state of my hair non-style in these photos - I call this particular look "Autumn Mist".)

The pattern was easy to use and came together with no problems whatsoever. There are a couple of parts that may prove a little tricky for beginners, notably the part where you have to attach the corners of the inset to the bodice, but it's totally do-able. Plus remember that the seam allowance is 3/8" - something I kept forgetting myself.

The neckline is a little low for me, so in an effort to avoid flashing my bits, I'm wearing a camisole under it for the Autumn. Looks great with a Breton top under it too - then again, what doesn't? I'm considering adding a button or two come Spring - has anyone else done that? When I finished it I was initially a little confused about the floppiness of the stand, I guess I expected it to lie flat against my chest...

... but a quick Google search later and I was reassured that it looks like that on everyone, and looks really great on everyone! Seriously - Google Image search Wiksten Tova. Amazing. On. Everyone.

Love it! Have you made a Tova blouse yet? What did you think?

PS. Guys, thank you SO much to everyone who filled in my questionnaire the other day. It had an incredible 1,000 responses in 24 hours, after which I had to close the survey so it wouldn't explode. I've started reading through all your comments and am feeling so encouraged and inspired by what you've said - thank you!

[Soundtrack: 'Lovin' You More Every Day' by Etta James]

1 November 2013

What Next? Seeking Your Ideas!

I’ve nearly finished writing my book - woop! There are just a few bits and bobs left to do before I submit, including using the feedback that a bunch of amazing testers are starting to send in to make sure the projects and instructions are spot on and super simple to use. I’ve loved working on this book but, being chronically unable to sit still, I’m already planning the next Big Project… and I’d love to get your input!

My aim in everything I do - blog, book, patterns, classes... - is to inspire women who want to take control of their style to dive into dressmaking. With refreshingly clear instructions and a DIY spirit, I'll take you through the steps to creating stylish clothes that you’ll love to wear.

Many of you have been asking when I’m going to release more dressmaking patterns. I’m itching to get started! But I want to crank it up a notch or two. As well as offering digital downloads to print at home, I’d also love to get my patterns printed. Digital made total sense to me when I started sharing my patterns as I had no idea how many people would want them… well, it turns out that lots of people do! Thank you so much for your support! I know many people (me included) love digital patterns for a low cost instant fix of sewing goodness, so I’m definitely going to keep digital as an option (it’s the future, y’all!). But I also understand that lots of you (again, me included) lurrrrve the beauty and convenience of pre-printed and packaged patterns. So that’s what I’m thinking of doing next…

I’m also working on interesting new ways of making the instructions and format of dressmaking patterns even more user-friendly. My professional background is in designing learning programmes, so this is a topic close to my heart. If you’ve used my existing digital patterns, you’ll know that the steps are outlined in two different ways so they’re accessible to beginners as well as experienced stitchers - detailed online photo tutorials demonstrating steps and techniques in detail, or simple written instructions for people who already know what they’re doing (and tick boxes to track your progress!). Do you have a brilliant idea for how to take the head scratching out of sewing? I’d love to hear it!

I’d be very grateful if you could let me know what you think in this questionnaire.

The questionnaire received an incredible 1,000 responses in 24 hours and is now closed. Thank you so much for your input! If you didn't get to complete the survey and have an innovative idea for making dressmaking simple, including for beginners, do leave a comment below.

[Soundtrack: ‘What’s a Girl to Do?’ by Bat for Lashes]