27 January 2016

Fabric Shopping in Japan

I just got back from Japan! It's been my dream trip for as long as I can remember and, after a rough ride towards the end of last year, I needed something to look forward to, so blew the budget and booked it. And I'm so glad I did! From soothing bowls of steaming soba to the excitement of watching a sumo tournament, from the bright lights of Tokyo to the peace of the ryokans, it was just the trip I needed.

Oh yes, and the fabric shopping is pretty good too. I've been a fan of Japanese prints and textiles ever since I started sewing, and I'd read a few things online about how great the fabric shops are over there, so I was excited to check it out. And yes - I fulfilled the cliché of having to buy an extra suitcase to bring it back in :)

If you're thinking of visiting some day, today I'm sharing the places I visited. This isn't a comprehensive guide - primarily this was a holiday with my lovely guy, so I didn't visit absolutely every fabric shop. I found blog posts by Cashmerette, Thewallina and the Tokyo Craft Guide really helpful, so check those out too...

Fabric shopping in Tokyo 

My favourite fabric shop in Japan that I visited was Tomato in the Nippori Fabric District, near Nippori station - a veritable textile wonderland. If you only get a couple of hours to fulfil your fabric buying needs while over there, this would be where I'd advise you to go for a sure-fire fix.

Tomato has various buildings all close together, the largest of which has five floors (I think? I lost count). Five MASSIVE floors of goodness. A couple of tips to avoid the faux pas I made - you need to pay for fabric on the floor that you found it on (I got told off). And if you see a beautiful Nani Iro double gauze bolt lying lonely in a trolley, don't feel it up lest you bring evil looks upon yourself from other customers - the trolleys are for customers to carry the fabric they plan to purchase ;)

There are looooads of other fabric shops in the same area as Tomato which are worth a look if you have any energy left - here's a map.

The other place I went in Tokyo was Okadaya in Shinjuku (here's a map). There are two shops - the more visible one has cosmetics on the ground floor, with notions and other crafty bits on higher levels. The other shop is down the alley next to it - between the other Okadaya and AttaGirl - with five floors of fabric. There's loads of gems in here - the most magical thing I spotted was these Liberty prints with blink-and-you-miss-them Hello Kitties!

Fabric shopping in Kyoto

In Kyoto, the first place I visited was Nomura Tailor. There are two branches - a smaller one in a covered shopping arcade on Teramachi St, and a larger one on Shijo street around the corner. While the smaller one was a calmer shopping experience (ie. I was the only frenzied customer in there), as far as I could tell (but I could be wrong) the larger one stocks the same stuff and then some. Lots of double gauze, cotton prints, amazing quality knit, printed fleece and Japanese drapey fabrics on the ground floor, fake furs, silks, wools upstairs, and notions, accessories, knitting bits and sewing patterns on the top floor. Basically, a wealth of sewing eye candy!

Another shop I was keen to check out in Kyoto was Misuyabari needle shop, which isn't far from Nomura Tailor. The address system in Japan can be tricky to navigate - particularly if your Japanese is limited to "Delicious", "Thank you for the lovely meal" and "Where is the toilet?" (ahem) - but I found this post really helpful in finding the shop. Their speciality is needles and pins - the friendly owner gave me a booklet all about the history of the shop, alas it's all in Japanese so I can't tell you too much about it! But what I can tell you is that if you go, you will be in awe of the teeny tiny hand-crafted pinheads. Look at the little doggie and kitty pins I got - eep!

So what else did I get? These three fabrics above are all snuggly soft double gauzes which I plan to make into pyjamas, and possibly a baby dress for a friend in the polar bear print. Double gauze was what I was most excited about as it's usually very expensive in the UK - these were all around £5 per metre.

As you can see, there's a bit of a theme evident in my purchases! I did my best to avoid buying too much of the "kawaii" (cute) stuff that is everywhere. As much as it makes me happy, I know I'd rather wear geometric prints when it comes down to it. But how could I resist these kitties?? They're on a lovely lightweight cotton lawn - the B&W one will definitely be a shirt, and I might make a Fifi camisole and shorts set with the yellow one. The geometric print on the left is a linen mix with a nice drape (and not creasy - YES) - I'm planning to make a plain shift dress with it to wear with a brightly coloured necklace. The third fabric along is a drapey viscose which I'm thinking of making into a boxy blouse or tee for the Summer - I left so inspired by the loose-fitting clothes in Japan, everyone looked sooo stylish.

The pencils print is a lovely canvas from a designer/shop called Sou Sou - it's destined to become cushions for my sofa. I'm not sure if the navy fabric in the middle counts as "kasuri" but it's certainly a Japanese aesthetic. Another shift dress with this one, I reckon. The one on the right is a textured mystery fabric, which I'm planning to make into a Megan dress.

When you find a gorgeous quality stripe double knit, hold onto it for dear life. Even if that means buying another suitcase! The fabric on the left feels so lovely I'm almost melting into my keyboard right now (it will become a Coco dress, bien sûr). The pale blue stripe is a beautiful sweatshirt knit that I couldn't resist either. The other two fabrics in the pic above look like denim (win) but are actually double gauze (double win). Bettine dresses for those, I think.

I also picked up a few other bits and bobs - some handbag handles, marking pencils and pen, turquoise fabric scissors, flat-head pins and little embroidered motifs (kitty and nautical, natch). Can't wait to start using them!

If you go fabric shopping in Japan, I hope you have a wonderful time. Remember to pack extremely lightly, otherwise budget for an extra suitcase :)

20 January 2016

Ten Tips for Pressing Your Sewing Projects Like a Pro!

If you’ve been sewing for more than ten minutes, you’ve probably heard that pressing can do absolute wonders for your dressmaking projects. A hot and steamy session with the iron can shape and set fabric, smooth out wrinkles, create neatly defined seam lines, and generally take your handmade creations to a whole new level.

Today I thought I’d share ten tips for pressing your sewing projects. And I’d love to hear any other tips you have in the comments!

Press seams flat, then wrong side, then right side
When pressing a seam, give it a quick press as sewn first, in other words, while it’s still flat, before you fold the seam allowances open or to the side. Pressing it flat will help set the stitches into the fabric and reduce any impressions made by the thread. Next, press the seam either open or to the side on the wrong side of the fabric, gently pulling the fabric away from the seam line with your fingers. Finally, press it on the right side, again easing the fabric away from the seam so you aren't left with any ridges.

Shape before pressing
The heat and steam from pressing can help “train” a garment into a particular shape. Try to avoid pulling a curved area, such as a neckline or collar, into a straight line as it’s going under the iron. Set up the shape you want to create first, then press the iron on top to set it.

Use the end of the ironing board
If you just want to press a small area, such as a collar, and don’t want to squidge up the rest of your lovely dress, position the collar on the end of the ironing board and dangle the rest of the fabric off the end of it. That way the iron will only press the bit you actually want to press.

Use shaping tools
Ironing boards are wonderful inventions, but sometimes you need an extra tool to help press the garment into the shape that you want, rather than just flat. Press darts and other curved areas over a tailor’s ham to help give them a nice shape. Insert a sleeve board or seam roll into narrow tubes such as sleeves and trouser legs that won’t fit over your ironing board. Don’t want to invest in extra tools, or want to DIY it? Tightly roll up a towel as a makeshift alternative, or here’s a great tutorial on making your own tailor’s ham and seam roll (or sausage).

Add a protective layer
Touching the plate of the iron to the fabric can sometimes damage it, leaving an unwanted sheen or even scorch marks. Always test out the iron setting on a scrap of fabric to check it’s not too hot and that it can handle the steam. If you place a pressing cloth – in other words, a layer of muslin, another or the same fabric, or even a sheet of lightweight paper – over the fabric before pressing, it should help protect it from excess steam and heat so you can turn the setting up a bit higher. A pressing cloth is also handy for pressing interfacing to fabric to help stop it squidging up with the moisture from the iron.

Hover, steam and finger press
In fact, you don’t necessarily need to touch the iron to the fabric at all in some cases. Press the seam open or to the side using your fingers, then, with your fingers out of the way, hover the iron over the seam and puff out some steam. Now, while it’s still hot and moist, run your fingers along the seam line again to reinforce the shape. Mind you don’t burn your fingers!

Avoid seam allowance impressions with a strip of card
Have you ever pressed a seam and found that the edge of the seam allowance leaves a line mark on the fabric? Most annoying. Slip a strip of heavy-ish paper or card between the fabric and the seam allowance before pressing to avoid it leaving impressions.

Avoid neat tap water
If you live in an area with hard water, you’ve probably suffered the dreaded murky water splutter on your lovely handmade dresses. The higher concentrations of minerals in hard water makes irons prone to limescale build up, limescale that they’ll eventually spit out all over your treasured Nani Iro double gauze. You can help keep your iron steam fresh by mixing tap water with distilled water or special iron water. The latter can also make your clothes smell gorgeous, which is always a bonus.

Save up your pressing
If you’re following instructions in a book or pattern, they may tell you to press a seam after sewing it. That doesn’t mean you have to press it then and there before moving on to the next step – you’ll save time by batch pressing a few seams at once. Just make sure you press a seam before you sew another seam across it, otherwise you won't be able to press the whole length of it the direction you want it to go.

Pimp up your ironing board
Last but not least, if the Ikea cover on your ironing board is doing nothing for your life, make your own cover in a snazzy fabric of your choice! It’ll brighten up your sewing room and put a smile on your face every time you plug in that iron.

Do you have any pressing tips for sewing projects of your own to share? Let us know in the comments!

13 January 2016

Sewing Space Tours... Lisa's Yurt!

Exciting times! We present, for your viewing pleasure, the first in our series of Sewing Space Tours - and boy, do we have a good one to kick off with! Pop the kettle on, and prepare to be inspired by a rather unusual sewing space. Over to Lisa to tell us more...

Hi, I’m Lisa and I’m happy to give you a tour of my sewing space! It is my first ever dedicated sewing space and I designed it myself, so I’m pretty proud of it. I live in Burgundy, France. I’m originally from the Netherlands but we decided to settle here after travelling for a year. We wanted to try it out a bit before we bought anything, so we built a yurt to live in. Yurts provide enough living space for us, they’re relatively cheap to build and they’re not permanent. They can be taken down in a day if need be, without leaving a trace. For us it’s perfect because we don’t know exactly where we want to live yet, and in the mean time we still have a comfortable place of our own.

When it comes to sewing, I sew almost all of my clothes. It started as a one year challenge and after that I just kept going. It was a great experience, your learning curve is so steep if you do something almost daily. My style is somewhat practical (I love to sew with knits) but I don’t want it to be boring so I try to keep it original. I also sew a lot of samples for my designs since I’ve started Paprika Patterns, which sometimes leaves little room for sewing anything else. I don’t have particular sewing rituals. except that I usually try to take a whole day to cut out some projects. After that I can just start sewing whenever I feel like it. I like to make myself a cup of tea when I sew too, but it just gets cold really because I get so engrossed in sewing. I take a break for coffee, because cold tea is alright, but I like my coffee hot!

A yurt is round and it is a single room, so to sew and work I have created a kind of multifunctional desk instead of a room or corner. I had to keep it as compact as possible because we only have 28 metres square. My stuff still takes over the rest of the house sometimes, sewing can be messy! Because sewing is also part of my work, I can justify taking up a chunk of space. I chose the place next to the window because I need the light. It’s wonderful to look up and gaze out of the window every now and then. I share the yurt with my husband and our dog. Fortunately sewing doesn't make much noise, so they’re not bothered by it!

I’ve designed my desk in such a way that it can hold most of my fabric, notions, WIP’s, machines and my inspiration board. We do have a house 50m away that we can use, and some of my fabric is stored there. I also cut my fabric in the house because there’s a large table. My desk is half bought, half made by me. It’s basically just two cabinets with a table top on top. I bought the first cabinet, and then figured that I could make it myself for half the price, so that’s what I did for the other one. The table top is one from IKEA, a light colour so I can also use it to shoot a tutorial if needed. The cabinets give me a lot of storage: 6 boxes hold fabric, one space is for patterns and one is for my serger. I rounded the long sides of the table so it follows the curve of the yurt and provides more ‘breathing space’ when I work. The cabinets hold various small things: zippers, buttons, bias tape, needles, stationary and other craft stuff. On top is the stuff I use most, for easy access: pens, rulers, seam allowance guide and such.

The thread rack and the inspiration board I made myself too. It frees up a lot of drawer space, plus I love how it looks! The other board I made to hang stuff on the wall without drilling holes in the yurt frame. The iron stand is super convenient (IKEA again) and I can easily grab a pair of scissors. I love the diamond shaped cork board, it mimics the shape of the wooden yurt frame and now I have a project board too.

My machine is stored under the top board when I’m working on my computer. When I need to sew I just slide it out and turn it on, it’s always plugged in. I have enough space to sew like this. My iron sits on the top board when I’m using it. The little ironing board is very handy, I just have it standing next to me on the floor. When I’m sewing and I need to press a seam, I just put it on the desk, then put it on the floor again when I’m done. I like not having to get up and iron somewhere else. Another thing I made is the WIP hanger. It’s just a piece of wood with a hook screwed to it, made in such a way that it fits into the frame without nails or screws. I also hang my ironing board here when I’m not sewing.

Because my fabric is in boxes and I have quite a lot of it, I’ve catalogued every piece on a card. Every card says what the content is, the length and width and has a small sample. I absolutely love to browse through the cards to pick out my next project. I helps me keep my stash in control (well, sort of…) because I can easily see what I have and there are no ‘forgotten’ pieces. I’ve written a series of posts on cataloguing your stash and why it’s great for your creativity. It’s a bit of work to do it, but it’s really worth it.

I hope you liked this peek into my ‘corner’!

Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your sewing space with us! We love it, and are off to convince Tilly that the Buttons NEED a yurt...

Fancy having your sewing space featured on our blog? Find out how to submit in this post. We look forward to sharing more of your inspiring spaces!

6 January 2016

Five Ways to Kick-Start Your Sewing Mojo!

It’s that time of year when we resolve to become a fresher, shinier, better version of ourselves! Or, perhaps more realistically, we set a goal or two – such as to get off the sofa and do some more sewing.

We all know that resolutions are easier said than done, especially when you’re stuffed full of mince pies and sherry after the Christmas break. So how can you motivate yourself to get more sewing done in the new year? Here are five ways I find helpful for kick-starting my sewing mojo (or "sew-jo") - and I’d love to hear your own tips in the comments…

1) Tidy your sewing space

When my sewing table is cluttered and my supplies stash in a mess, I don’t feel particularly inspired to sit down and sew. If this sounds familiar, make some time to get organised. Sort through that fabric pile, recycle your scraps, clear out any random notions that you’re never going to use, invest in a thread rack, tidy your tools, and clear a nice space. Create the kind of clear and inspiring space that will have you itching to spend some time sewing.

2) Get out of your comfort zone

If you feel stuck in a sewing rut, perhaps you need to mix it up a bit and learn a new skill. I’ve invested in two sewing courses this year, one on lingerie and one on couture sewing. Not only did they enhance my sewing knowledge with new techniques - and new approaches to old techniques - but watching other people sewing inspired me to spend more time sewing myself.

Have a think about what you want to learn this year. Perhaps you want to conquer your fear of buttonholes, try making your own swimsuit, or learn to sew with jersey (we have an online class for that!). Keep your mind active and engaged - and your sew-jo will thank you.

3) Choose a quick fix project

On the other hand, if your sewing machine is gathering dust and the mere idea of threading it up seems like a massive chore, you might need to take baby steps to motivate yourself! There’s no point pressurising yourself to sew something epic if you don’t feel like it - start small with a quick and simple project instead. Maybe a tried and tested project that you’ve made before and know doesn't require much brain power, or a new-to-you pattern that’s easy to fit (especially if you can’t be bothered to make a toile) and fast to sew. When I’m feeling tired and in need of a sewing fix, I like to whip up a new Agnes top or Bettine dress - projects I know I can practically sew together with my eyes closed!

4) Seek visual inspiration

If you just don’t know what to sew, start slowly by gathering some sartorial inspiration. Magazines, films, blogs, and, of course, Pinterest are all great places to find dressmaking inspiration. When I need a sewing boost, I look over the images I’ve previously pinned to my Pinterest boards (that’s what they’re there for, after all). I also like to have a good rummage through my stash of vintage sewing patterns. Even if I don’t sew with them, just looking at the cover images somehow always manages to get me in the mood to cut out some fabric! What are your favourite sources of sewing inspiration?

5) Organise a sewing date with friends

I love spending time on my own at my sewing table, with just a podcast to keep me company. But sometimes it’s fun to sew with other people so you can have a giggle while you're doing it. A group sewing session can also be a great motivator - you can feed off other people's energy, feel the drive of a common purpose, and even help each other out with sewing questions and fitting tweaks when you need to. Inviting a sewing buddy round for a sewing session can give you just the energy boost you need to keep sewing - and to keep sewing fun!

How are you planning to boost your sewing mojo this year? Do share!