30 May 2014

It Must Be Dove

To finish off the Sewing Indie Month collaborations, I've written a guest post for Sinbad & Sailor - my buttoned-up hack of Hannah's Dove T pattern. This is a stylishly simple woven t-shirt with bust darts and a split at the back - I decided to fasten the split with buttons. It's a lovely project and I'm looking forward to wearing it when the sun reappears, whenever that may be.

You might recognise the fabric - it's left over from one of the Lilou dresses in my book. It was one of those lucky finds - a beautifully cotton with a fluid drape, only a couple of quid from Brixton market. Shame the pattern isn't quite straight, and every once in a while you find a heart that looks like it's melted (ahh...), but I'm not really bothered about things like that ;)

Despite - or perhaps because of - how stupidly busy I've been preparing for Makegood (I'll be here when you read this!), it was a nice break from packing boxes and preparing documents to sit down and make this project. I love the way sewing helps you to zone out from regular life for a bit while you focus intently on creating something with your hands.

Hop on over to Sinbad & Sailor to find out more about my Dove T hack!

27 May 2014

Behind the Scenes... Preparing for my Pop-Up

By the time you read this, I'll probably be in a van packed full of... stuff... heading for Selfridges to set up my first pop-up shop at the Makegood festival. Woop! There will be lots of exciting goodies on my stand including...

Bags! Thanks so much to those of you who helped vote for the tote on Twitter and Instagram - this design turned out to be the most popular overall with everyone canvassed (geddit?!). And it's my fave too :) These are amazing quality, Fairtrade canvas bags from Bidbi, printed in the UK, with strong straps, a large base and a serious amount of space inside. They'll be on sale at Makegood and since lots of you have been asking I'll probably put them on the online shop afterwards if you're interested...

Badges! I'll be giving these out to Makegood customers so you can show the world about your love of DIY dressmaking.

Postcards! You may know these already if you have ordered a pattern from my shop.

And of course my book and sewing patterns. It's so cool seeing them all together - they're looking like a real collection now :)

The backdrop of my stand will be - appropriately - made of fabric. Woven Monkey printed my logo onto a roll of cotton drill - how awesome is that?! They were fab to deal with and I was so impressed by the quality of the finished product. I'll definitely be ordering some custom-printed fabric from them in future to make a dress or skirt - they have plain cotton, sateen or drill to choose from. Ooh and they're currently running a fabric design competition in which you can win a sewing machine.

Oh yes, and I couldn't resist ordering this little baby for the display. (And I mean little - it's teeny tiny.) It's an on brand colour, after all!

I've never done a show or pop-up before, so it'll be a fantastic opportunity to get IRL feedback from customers, wholesale buyers and press. Plus I think being "on show" at an event like that will help make my business feel more real to me - I never really had a definite moment where I said, "Right, I'm starting a business", it all kinda happened gradually, so maybe this will be the point when it finally feels like a real-life company. I'm also excited to check out the work of the other up-and-coming creative businesses who will be showcasing there, including my friend Freya who is launching her own line of lingerie sewing patterns - I'm so excited for you, Freya! 

I was amazed at how much work is involved in preparing for a show like this - something I'd never really thought about before - from the logistics of transport and insurance to writing materials such as buyers' packs and press releases and of course designing the stand display. I can't wait to see it all come together. But in the meantime...

Just in case you thought any of this sounded in any way glamorous, here's a photo of what my office looks like at the moment. Yikes!

There, that's better.

Makegood starts on Thursday with a press preview and VIP party, then on Friday it's an early kick off with a buyers' breakfast. The event then opens to the public from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening - you should totes come along! I'd love to meet you. I'll be in conversation with Cath Kidston at 4pm on Friday (I went to her office to meet her the other day - she's lovely). I'd love to include a crowdsourced question in the interview - what would you ask Cath about running a business?

Hope to see you there!

[Soundtrack: 'Shopping (I Like to)' by Neon Neon]

22 May 2014

Getting to Know Kate & Rose Patterns

Do you know Kate & Rose sewing and embroidery patterns? As part of Sewing Indie Month, independent designers are interviewing each other, and one of the things I love about this project is the opportunity to discover new-to-me pattern companies. Kate & Rose is one of them. I love this Giselle dress pattern (above) - so gorgeous! - and really enjoyed getting to know designer Kati in this interview. I know you will too!

Hi Kati! It's lovely to meet you. Can you tell Tilly and the Buttons readers a little bit about Kate & Rose?

"Kate & Rose is a line of sewing and embroidery patterns, often inspired by folkwear. I design for women who like to make easy-going pieces with an interesting detail or two, but perhaps don't have a whole lot of time to devote to making one garment. You can place embroidery on all of my designs, or use the embroidery patterns to add a folklore-inspired touch to anything else you like."

Where did your interest in folklore-inspired designs spring from?

"While growing up in Hungary, folk dance and basic hand embroidery was part of my elementary school's curriculum. I'm also a child of the '70s, when flowers and bright colors and hippies and folkwear worn in daily life abounded. I think that aesthetic is forever etched in my brain (or - some might say it has forever scarred my brain…). But it's also something a bit more idealistic. In small Eastern European villages women often came together to make things - finish a girl's trousseau, spin yarn, or paint the walls of their houses with wildly colorful flowers. Folklore is a bit about that: making and creating together, and in the process making a tough world look a little bit nicer. I try to infuse my designs with this sense of coming together to create. Eastern Europe is a very divided and troubled, and of course I'm not suggesting that pretty embroidered blouses can heal the world's divisions. But making things together perhaps does improve things, just a little. The modern sewing movement is a kind of folklore too: it's about coming together and making things, with the help of the internet. It's an amazingly supportive and kind community."

That's such an interesting way of describing the online sewing community - I agree completely, collaborative creation can indeed make the world a better place. Tell us, how did you get started with your pattern business?

"I was at a modern quilters' meeting a few years ago (I used to make quilts - I no longer have time, except to make doll quilts for my daughters!), and Kathy Miller, one of the founders of the fabric company Michael Miller was there to speak to the group. She talked about leaving her fashion industry job to start a creative business, at first working out of a New York City apartment with her business partner, Michael Steiner. She talked about the sewing-making-quilting community for which she was now making fabrics: how amazed she was that the focus was on creativity rather than winning at any cost, which is much different than what she was used to before.

When I heard her speak, I had two very small children at home. A few years earlier I'd left behind a career in academia (I have a Ph.D.) because it was really quite impossible to get a full-time job in my field. Impossible without moving really far away from my family that is (I live in New York), and even then quite tough! I always wanted children and wasn't so young when I had them, and my family life was really important to me, so I gave up any dream of being a university professor. I was happy with my new life but in another way, it was a big blow to my sense of self. For years I didn't even think about starting any other career. But then, little by little, I started sewing again. I'd sewn a lot of my own clothes when I was a teenager, it was tough to get clothes you actually liked in Hungary back then). And then, hearing Kathy Miller talk about how she took a chance on a creative business made me think, wait, so people actually do that WITH SEWING?

Little did I know how much time & work is involved. But having my daughters changed me somehow - I've realized there is no time to put off doing things that are important to me. And it's always about my daughters, in a way: I think that even today, it's especially important for little girls to see examples of other women going for the things they want. And to see that that's something women get to do! (Okay - so this has a bit to do with my dissertation work, there's tons of research on it.)

So I decided I wouldn't let myself find excuses and go make sewing and folklore and handwork my work and career. No matter how many mistakes I make, how little sleep I get, or how silly I'll look in the process. My husband warned me it would be hard - he's a photographer and knows pretty well how much work it takes to be a creative professional! - but he is also an amazingly supportive person. It took me a long time to figure out just what I want my work to be about. I dabbled in RTW for about 15 seconds but realized I love tinkering far too much. And also, makers are so much nicer! So here I am, making embroidery and sewing patterns…"

Good on you, Kati. You're right, it takes an insane amount of work to start and run your own business, but you only live once, so if you have a dream, you should go for it! And yes, makers are seriously lovely - I can't get over the sweet emails that my customers send me, I'm pretty sure they're the nicest people in the world!

Now - talk us through your approach to designing sewing and embroidery patterns. Are there any similarities in the processes?

"The processes are similar in that coming up with a design always starts with an image that gets stuck in my head. Then I go collect every possible variation I can find of that image, online via Pinterest or elsewhere, and offline in vintage stores, flea markets, magazines, vintage sewing patterns. Eventually I start to draw ideas they bring to mind. I usually draw in the computer and not by hand. I'm not a very linear person so being able to think/draw things out in a non-linear fashion, by computer, without having to start from scratch over and over again, is closer to the way my mind works. For sewing patterns I do usually start with a paper draft which I then digitize to finish working with. Having said that, I do try to keep a handmade feel to my patterns anyway because it's a reflection of my aesthetic better. So… I do think creating patterns for sewing or embroidery are very similar."

What are your own favourite things to sew?

"Well… I think my Instagram feed reveals how many blouses I own… I'm afraid I'm a somewhat boring seamstress when it comes to sewing for myself."

Not boring at all - it's good to have a signature styleMy readers love dressmaking but not all of them are into embroidery... yet! Do you have any top tips for getting started with embroidery? 

"Make something real and useful that you might like handling a lot when it's done. Something that will recall to you the time you spent stitching it. For me, this is clothing: it touches our bodies every day. And I like the way hand-embroidery reminds me that living people's living hands made the clothes I'm wearing, even if I didn't make it myself. Start with a simple pattern, and use a color (or colors) of thread that makes you happy when you look at it. At first, use something easy to stitch with, like perle cotton, #8 or #5, nothing too thin. A nice thing to do is trace a pattern with just a running stitch, like Sashiko, using variegated thread. Not hard at all yet the effect is quite impressive. Oh, and make a date with a friend or two and stitch together!"

Great tips, thank you. I love embroidery and started a project to embroider pattern illustrations but haven't done it in ages - you've inspired me to get back into it this summer!

Important question time - what is your staple meal, please? ie. what is the meal you eat most often, by default?

"This is a really important question! Food is a huge part of our daily lives and the quality and flavor of what we eat affects everything else. Having said that, there's more often than not too little time to make fancy meals. I have a rotating crew of staples, they all involve some degree of chopping vegetables and throwing them in a pot, quick meals that can be made with whatever is in the fridge. One is a stew, slow-cooked on days when I spend the afternoon at home working (I add chicken, sausage, or smoked ham to vegetables, and simmer them with beans or chick peas), there's a soup (my kids call it "green soup" and oddly enough, they actually eat it) I make it with leeks and cucumbers or zucchini, blend it with a stick blender, also blending in fresh herbs like dill or more recently mint. Then there's the light pasta dish when I literally have 15 minutes to cook and need to eat something warm and fresh - sautee onions and a chopped veggies in olive oil or (ahem) bacon grease left over from making bacon earlier, perhaps add chicken or a bit of tuna, and eat with pasta. But - let's be honest - another important staple is sushi ordered from the Japanese restaurant down the street."

You're making me hungry! Back to business - what plans and dreams do you have for Kate & Rose in the future?

"Right now I'd like to get through the next two months, before I get a longish vacation… I've already got another pattern in the works, and there's more embroidery to do! I'd like to grow Kate & Rose as a brand of patterns for folksy stitching. And do all the things people dream of - collaborate with other makers, write a book or two perhaps, and of course meet more of the wonderful makers of the sewing community along the way!"

Good luck, Kati - I'll be rooting for you!

Readers, I hoped you enjoyed learning more about Kate & Rose patterns. Sewing Indie Month is linking up different pattern designers with each other, so Christine Haynes also interviewed me for her blog - check it out...

19 May 2014

Three Coco Hacks from Thread Theory

Have you been following Sewing Indie Month on the blogosphere? I'm really enjoying seeing other independent sewing pattern designers collaborate, and now it's my turn to host. Today I'm absolutely thrilled to share with you a guest post from the gorgeous Morgan from Thread Theory. If you don't know Thread Theory, you need to check them out! They offer super stylish menswear sewing patterns, which are relatively hard to come by in the indie pattern world. If that's not enough to convince you, their website often features pictures of men in their smalls. Just promise you'll come back here afterwards for Morgan's fabulous tutorials...


Tilly Banner

"Hi! I’m Morgan, from Thread Theory Designs! If you haven’t heard of us, we are a menswear sewing pattern company run by my husband Matt, and myself. I’m thrilled to be paired with Tilly for Sewing Indie Month, as (you will soon find out) I am a BIG fan of her Coco sewing pattern!

I’ve really been enjoying sewing with knits of late as these projects are super quick, quite easy, and invariably result in a comfortable ‘staple’ garment in Matt and my wardrobes. Tilly’s Coco pattern is no exception to this, I have sewn three of them now and none of them have taken longer than a short evening of sewing! These three tops are already in heavy rotation in my closet and I am sure I will be making many more in the future.

Today, I’m sharing with you three mini-tutorials that I have created to go with Tilly’s Coco. They are meant to get your creative juices flowing and to help you jump the hurdle that a lot of people come across when they want to begin sewing knits: they can’t find inspiring fabric! While it may be difficult to find pretty knit prints and a rainbow of knit solids in your local fabric store, with a little bit of extra effort you can turn even the most boring knit into something unique and perfect for your next knit sewing project!

So, let's start...

1) How to Embellish with Wovens.

Close up-1

If you have a plain knit and a great base pattern, like Coco, it is easy to add some prints and texture by trimming your garment with wovens. For this garment, I added a keyhole at the back neckline with cotton ties. I also added lace to the hem. Coco is a perfect pattern to do this sort of embellishing with, especially along the hem, because the hem flares just enough that you don't need it to stretch to pull it over your head.

Embellish - staystitch keyhole

To make the keyhole opening, stay-stitch using a regular stitch length, in the shape that you would like your opening to be. If I were to try this technique again, I would probably make the keyhole wider at the top edge so that the finished cotton ties would 'cinch' the neck in when they are tied tied. The bow made from my ties takes up more room than the space that I created with the keyhole so the neck stretches out to become a touch wider than the pattern intends.

Embellish - cut out keyhole

Next, trim your fabric close to the stay stitching to create the hole. If you would like, you could leave a larger seam allowance so that the next step isn't quite so fiddly - anything between 1/4" - 5/8" will work, depending on the size of your keyhole.

Embellish - turn raw edges under

Now, fold and press the seam allowances to the wrong side of the garment (like little self facings). You can adjust the shape of your keyhole by varying the size of your seam allowances if you are trying to end up with a specific shape (that is what I did - note that the seam allowance at the bottom is very narrow because I wanted quite a sharp curve). Finish the edges by stitching. I used a large zig-zag stitch to catch the raw self facing edges and finish the keyhole all at once.

Now it is time to make the ties! I chose a really pretty floral cotton - I certainly wouldn't have been able to find a print like this in a knit at my local fabric store!

Embellish - cut 20cm rectangles

Cut two 20 cm rectangles. I made mine about 2" wide to result in a 1/2" wide tie (I used 1/2" seam allowances).

Embellish - sew to form tubes

Fold the fabric in half and sew along the longest length to create a two tubes. After sewing, trim your seam allowances to make it easier to turn the tubes right side out.

Embellish - turn right side out

I like to use a safety pin to help me turn things right side out. I attach it to one end and then send it through the entire tube by gripping it through the fabric and passing it from hand to hand while pushing it through the fabric. The above photo shows you how it will look when the safety pin has reached the other side and it is ready to pull on to turn the tube right side out.

Embellish - iron and finish ends

Iron the tubes flat and turn all four raw ends inside the tube. Top-stitch to close the ends and your ties are now ready to add to the knit garment!

Embellish - add ties to neckline

To add my ties, I simply pinned them to the neckline and sewed over them when I zig-zagged the neckline (as per Tilly's instructions). I started sewing at one side of the key-hole and ended my stitching at the other side. I chose to do a tight zig zag stitch as a decorative finish (you will see this in the photo below).

Embellish - zig zag the neckline

And now we're ready to embellish them hem! I had a crochet duvet that had been given to me by Matt's Grandma to use in my sewing projects. This was the perfect opportunity to use a length of the lace edge!

Embellish - cut lace for hem

To determine how much I needed, I simply lay out my garment and cut the lace to include seam allowance (you can see this on the left hand side). I only made one side seam because I wanted to break up the lace as little as possible. Next, I sewed up the unfinished edge to create a tube. My lace was quite finished along the top edge, but you might want to serge or zigzag this edge at this point to make sure it doesn't fray.

Embellish - pin lace to ironed hem

To attach the lace to the hem, I ironed the hem as per Tilly's directions and then pinned the lace so that the wrong side of the garment faced the right side of the lace. Then, I zig-zagged the hem, making sure to catch the lace!

Et, voila! A unique striped Coco that no other sewer could replicate exactly (and that you would certainly never find in the store!).

2) How to Paint with Bleach!

Close up-2

For my next Coco, I found a basic sweater knit in my favorite colour and sewed up the Coco exactly as Tilly directs. I loved how it looked with my leather belt as is (in fact, I wore it on a PBS Sew It All episode because I liked it so much! See photos here.). All the same, I thought an embellishment would make it a touch more interesting and help to differentiate it from the embarrassing amount of garments in the exact same shade of green that I already have in my closet!

For this Coco, I tried out bleach dying for the first time! Have you heard of this technique? You can find my inspiration post here. I liked this idea because it didn't involve buying any supplies (most people likely have bleach in their laundry room) and it looked so fast and effective.

Painting - what you'll need

For this project, you'll need finished garments or fabric to paint (I painted my Coco and our free men's Arrowsmith Tank pattern... also in my favourite green lol). You'll also need some chalk or other form of fabric marker, a small dish of fabric safe bleach, a paintbrush (not a good one just in case the bleach is hard on it!), and a piece of cardboard to insert between layers of fabric.

It is important to wear gloves and to avoid getting bleach on your skin because bleach is corrosive!

  Painting - draw design

Before painting, insert the cardboard between fabric layers and then draw your design (or at least some of the main lines) using chalk or a fabric marker. I marked out the basic lines to draw three trees on the Arrowsmith Tank. I decided to take a risk and just paint freestyle on the Coco :P.

Painting - paint design

Paint the design using bleach and your paintbrush. Since the bleach is a lot more fluid than paint, be careful not to let it drip on your fabric! Or... maybe just embrace the drips? Can you tell that is what I did?

Painting - let bleach dry

Let the bleach dry and in a matter of seconds you will begin to see the colour disappear! Depending on the type of fabric and the amount of bleach you applied, the design might appear slightly pink or orange (as it did with the Arrowsmith Tank) or it might turn white right away (as it did with the Coco).

Painting - whiten in the sun

To encourage the bleach to turn the fabric whiter, you can add multiple layers of bleach or you can let your garments sit in the sun for an hour or so. I hung mine up on the clothesline and the Arrowsmith Tank design turned much whiter over the span of an hour.

3) How to Dye Fabric:
Close up-3

For my third Coco, I, a dying novice, decided to delve into the most basic of fabric dying methods - I bought a pure white cotton knit and cold water dye. I have always been intrigued but also intimidated by the process of fabric dying. It seemed to me like a gateway towards endless possibilities. With dye, a sewist can become one step less inhibited by the consumer world and not only create their garments, but also create their textile designs! Armed with dye, I would no longer be limited by the same choices available to every other sewist at my community fabric store!

For this tutorial, I really just carefully followed the instructions on the back of the dye packet. Even though you could do just as I did, I know I would have liked some encouragement and pretty photos to lead the way for me. After all, the tiny text on the back of the packet wasn't exactly inspiring or friendly. I hope that this photo journal of the process will show you how mess-free and easy dying is and thus convince you to test it out for the first time!

Dyeing - what you will need

To dye a length of fabric large enough for a shirt, you will need:
  • One bucket, bowl or pot (don't use something that you prepare or serve food in)
  • Something to stir with
  • Some fabric containing mostly natural fibres. I used 100% cotton. Remember that the colour of your fabric will mix with the colour of your dye to create new colours (exciting!)
  • One packet of cold-water dye (I used the this dye from Dylon)
  • 500mL warm water to mix dye in (measured using the measuring cup)
  • Something to measure 6L of water (I used a 1L water bottle)
  • Scissors to open your dye packet
  • Gloves so as to avoid green hands
  • 250g (5 Tbsp) salt
Dyeing - add salt to water

Fill a container with 6L of cold tap water. Add 250g (5 Tbsp) of salt. (Note: I don't know if this is the case with most plastic buckets, but you might be interested to know that my bucket didn't become discoloured during the dying process).

Dyeing - soak your fabric

Make sure your fabric is damp before dying it so that it has a better chance of evenly accepting the dye. Also, you should pre-wash your fabric to rid it of any chemicals that might prevent it from accepting the dye. If you are washing your fabric right before dying, simply take it out of the washing machine so that it is wet and ready to go. If you have already washed and dried your fabric like I had, just soak it in your 6L of warm dying water and remove it before you add the dye.

Dyeing - dissolve the dye

Open the dye packet and pour the crystals into 500mL of warm water. Stir it thoroughly to make sure all the crystals dissolve. I thought that mine had done so but found out that half of them were a goopy mess at the bottom of the bowl when I went on to the next step. So when the packet tells you to stir thoroughly, it means thoroughly!

Dyeing - add dye to water

Add the dye mixture to the water and stir once again. The more evenly distributed the dye, the better your chances are that your fabric will be dyed evenly.

Dyeing - add fabric to dye
Add the fabric to the dye bath and stir continuously for 15 minutes. This may seem like a long time but it is important to keep the fabric moving so that the dye has a chance to reach all areas evenly rather then settling on some areas heavier than others. Leave the fabric in the dye for a further 45 minutes and stir it every once in a while.

Dyeing - rinse in cold water

Once all the pigment has been taken into the fabric (your water will look very transparent compared to when you started!), rinse the fabric in cold water. There shouldn't be too much dye leaving the fabric but it is a good idea to do this anyways to avoid a mess when you transfer the fabric to your washing machine. After your fabric is rinsed, wash and dry it just as you will for the finished garment. And...

Dyeing - you're ready to sew!

Thank you, Tilly, for the opportunity to sew your fabulous Coco and for featuring my tutorials on your blog! I'm excited to see what other great events and tutorials will be taking place this month. If you want to find more about Sewing Indie Month and to have a look at the calendar of scheduled events, head on over to the Sewing Indie Month headquarters!"

15 May 2014

In Conversation... With Cath Kidston!

Do you remember I invited you to my pop-up shop at Makegood festival? The creative start-ups event at the Old Selfridges Hotel at the end of May? Well... they've just announced the stonking speaker programme that runs alongside the shopping event, and one of the speakers is Cath Kidston - someone I really admire for the way she set up and grew her business. I can't get on the tube without seeing at least three Cath Kidston bags per carriage, and everywhere I turn I spot a brand that has clearly been influenced by the iconic nostalgic-country-kitsch style that she pioneered.

So imagine my surprise (okay, complete shock) when I found out who they wanted to interview her live on stage... [deep breaths]... little me!!! How exciting is THAT? I'll be in conversation with Cath ("Cath" - check me out, showing off with first name terms) on Friday 30th May early afternoon (I believe it'll be around 2pm but don't quote me on that in case it changes) - UPDATE: the slot has now changed to 4pm.

And you can come! If you haven't got your ticket yet, get it NOW! Choose the 'Friday VIP & Industry Day' ticket if you want to hear Cath Kidston or, if you can't make that day, choose a Saturday or Sunday ticket and pop by the Tilly and the Buttons stand to say hello. I'll be there all weekend signing books and showcasing my patterns (plus another little product whose design you may have been involved in if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram...). You can read more about the weekend on the Makegood website, find out who else is on the speaker programme, or take a look at the Cath Kidston blog. You won't want to miss it, the businesses showcasing there are amaaazing!

Have you read Cath Kidston's book, Coming Up Roses? It's a fascinating, honest and very readable account of how she built her business. I got my hands on a copy a few months ago and devoured it in a single sitting. Check it out if you're interested in that sort of thing, it's such a great read.

Hope to see you at Makegood!