Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 5 2013 - Reflections, Inspirations & Goals

Happy New Year to you and yours! Here's to a fantastic one for us of us, full of creativity, inspiration and sewing satisfaction. :)

Part 2 of the Top 5 today... and what a perfect topic(s) for the first day of the year! We'll start with:


1) 2013 was the first year I committed to making all my own clothes. Initially I wasn't sure whether it was doable, or if I'd be able to stick it out (would I be utterly sick of sewing by the year's end?). Verdict: Entirely doable! I've found it liberating, not being limited to the styles and colours of the shops' offerings.

As for being sick of it - I've never enjoyed sewing as much as I have this year, which is partly due to the sheer satisfaction of the creative process, and partly due to the amazing online community which is so unwaveringly kind, generous and supportive. Thank you! You've made it a wonderful year.

2) I have overcome my reluctance to wear my me-made stuff in public. Last January I had a handful of things I loved but never wore - someone might have seen them! ;) It's a vulnerable thing initially, isn't it? And I was always slightly worried that if people asked, "Did you make that?" it was because it looked homemade - in a bad way. That intimidation factor is completely gone now. In fact people at work often ask, now they know I sew, and look a bit disappointed if I say no...

I've also - mostly - overcome my dislike of being photographed. I very much prefer being behind the camera, but that's not going to cut it when you write a sewing blog, obviously... Special thanks to my twelve year old daughter who takes all my photos (I started off asking my husband, but that usually ended in an argument. Too many chefs... ;) )

3) Sewing this past year has definitely taught me to trust my own taste and judgment more. I've never been a fashionista, nor a slave to trends, mainly because I've always loved vintage and period clothes and the whole notion of everyone wearing the same thing always seemed a bit limiting or unimaginative. But as an introvert I've always shied away from standing out. So in the past even when I've seen something I loved and that I know would suit me, if it was too different from what everyone else was wearing I typically baulked and left it alone.

Maybe the confidence to jettison fashion in favour of personal style naturally evolves as you get older, but I think sewing for myself is definitely hastening the process.

4) I think I have begun to do what I hoped I would do - slow down my consumption. I'm finding I impulse buy far less often, now that I know that that purchase entails time and effort on my part to come to fruition. Any purchases are a lot more considered than when I was just grabbing a quick, cheap fix off the racks. There isn't time, sadly, to make all the things I'd like to make (not if I want a life outside sewing...), so I'm trying to prioritise more. I'd much rather have ten well-made garments that I love to wear, than 50 ho-hum ones than I don't.

5) Looking back over what I've made this year, although most individual garments were successful, I think I can be a lot more cohesive in what I plan and make from now on. I've sewn a lot of clothes; now I want to start sewing a wardrobe. My "rule of three" (whatever I buy needs to go with at least three things I already own) has been helpful, but I think I need to sit down and evaluate where the gaps are. That'll be a focus for next year I think.

All in all, I think it's been a successful year. I've learnt a lot, grown a bit, and enjoy sewing more than I ever have. On to:


In no particular order:

1) To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World by Lucy Siegel. I've mentioned this before, but this is the book I read in late 2012 that initiated my goal to forego RTW for a year. It continued to inspire me all year. Excellent, enlightening and, most of all, motivating read.

2) The online sewing sewing community. I won't list individual blogs, because I'm bound to miss someone, but having largely avoided social media up until now this was a wonderful surprise. Who knew the internet could be such a friendly, inspiring and supportive place! (I sound like I'm eighty...)

3) Pinterest. Another surprise! I don't know what it is about being told I HAVE to try something that makes me dig in my heels and avoid said thing, but I'm glad I backed down on this one. (took a few people saying it though...) To me it's been less of a social media thing (see #2), and more a sewing inspiration board. And it's been really helpful with styling ideas, which don't come naturally to me.

4) Order and calm. I don't function well in chaos. I remember reading in an Isabelle Allende book the sentence, "He felt filled with noise inside; he longed for the void of silence and solitude." I know I can't be inspired or creative when I'm not calm on the inside. The good thing is that this isn't dependent on circumstances - just as well, because life gets busy at times! For me to remain inspired, I have to make sure I'm setting aside quiet me-time; praying, meditating, walking, reading, even just watching the sky for ten minutes with a cup of tea. These are not selfish things! These are what help me do the rest of life well, or as well as I possibly can. Which leads fairly naturally into:

5) This saying I heard a few years ago: "You make time for the things that are important to you." This irritated me no end initially - probably because making excuses is easier than taking responsibility! But it's true - say if I want to be fit, I'll forego an extra hour of sleep to do something about it. (not a personal example that one...) Sewing a dress is more effort than just buying one off the rack. But the rewards of creative expression, refining skills and personal satisfaction are more important to me than the "quick fix", so I make the time for it. To me that's empowering...and it inspires me to follow through on my resolution.

Ok - on to next year!

2014 GOALS:

1) TO DO:
   Write down a wardrobe plan; what do I need, what do I want, how does it all fit together?  Also, I like the idea of sewing to a colour palette - no more wardrobe orphans!

   There are a few individual items I really want to try my hand at this year (I'll make sure they fit into above plan)

  •  A coat. I got a Style Arc gift voucher for Christmas - already spent and ordered - and one of the patterns I chose was the Ziggi Jacket. It looks pretty challenging, and a leetle bit intimidating, but I'm looking forward to this one!
  • Trousers. I refuse to be intimidated any longer. 2014 will see me make pants I enjoy wearing. Extra points if they're tailored or jeans.
  • A tailored blazer. Tricky. Must buy tailors ham.
  • A proper shirt. Or a silk blouse. Something that improves my finishing skills.
  • Underwear. This was the one exclusion to last year's RTW ban. I'd love to be able to make my own. Ohhh Lulu have some lovely patterns. Won't be modelling these personally on the blog though; a hanger shot will have to suffice!
I'd also like to sew more for the family. I've been wanting to try out some Thread Theory menswear patterns since I saw them. 2014 is the year!

3) TO TRY:
   Fair Isle or colourwork in knitting. I've admired from afar, but I'd love to actually have a go at it.

   More proficient with sewing knits. You really can't - well, I can't - have a wardrobe without knits. I've made a start, but I want to get good at them.

   How to spin. (I feel all earth-motherish just writing that ;) ) I was just given two massive bags of alpaca fleece ( I know!!) recently, and have borrowed my mum's spinning wheel. It's going to happen! I'd really like to try my hand at natural dyeing too, and this is the perfect opportunity. 

So there's 2014 at a glance - the ideal version anyhow.... It's looking a bit ambitious, but honestly even if I only achieve half of those goals I'll be satisfied. No harm in aspiring!

Here's to a wonderful new creative year for all of us! What are your sewing plans for 2014?

Danielle oxo

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Top 5 Hits & Misses 2013

Hello! Wherever you are I hope the festive season is treating you kindly, that the rush has subsided, and that you have the time and leisure to be enjoying family, friends and enormous amounts of delicious leftovers. I plan to be living on Christmas ham and cheesecake for at least a week. Ah, the good life!

I'm jumping on the bandwagon with Gillian of Crafting a Rainbow's Top 5 of 2013:

I think it's such a great idea to stop and reflect on the year that was; I know I tend to get caught up in the excitement of the Next Project (sometimes before I've finished the current one).  
So, if I've read the "rules" right, I think you can mix these up pretty much however you like, so I'm going to split the five into two posts. Today, it's hits and misses:

We'll start with the misses, so as to finish on a positive note!


1)  First up - because this leaps to mind as my most spectacular fail - is my poor Still Light Tunic:

Oh, it looked so promising on Ravelry! A kind of knitty version of Lola, snug and soft, with deep front pockets. And the yarn was a delight; merino and silk, from memory. But....no. Just a great, big, resounding NO! I haven't had the heart to unravel it all yet, but I will. The yarn is too glorious to waste. On the plus side, I did learn how to knit top-down.

2)  Secondly, another knit (unfortunate theme developing here...) is my Cosy Cardi:

It looks alright. In fact it looks just like I imagined it would. Until I tried it on. Waaaay too big. Monkey arms x 1000000. I asked my daughter (nearly 13) whether I could get away with just calling it slouchy and oversized. She sweetly but firmly said not. It did make a lovely gift for a friend though....

Lesson learned: I will henceforth always knit a gauge swatch. Always. Even if it's boring. Which it is.

3)  Less of a fail, and more of a not-quite-there:  My scarf-to-skirt refashion:

This was an Indian cotton scarf; I used the border print at the sides and waistband and lined it in black voile. I still like the idea of it, but it didn't quite get the fit of the darts at front and back right so it blouses out a bit. Plus the outer layer seems to bunch up over the lining when I walk. I like clothes to be effortless when I'm wearing them; I don't want to have to constantly rearrange or fuss with them. So this doesn't get worn all that often.

4)  My Stripy Ginger skirt:

I'm calling this a miss because apart from Me Made May, when everything I'd ever made was press ganged into service, I've never worn it. Not ever. I made it from a remnant really just as practise in stripe-matching, and I think that's part of the issue - there was never any sense of "excitement" in this make. Wearing it is kind of like playing scales on the piano instead of Beethoven. Does that make sense??

I'm going to leave it at four, I think. On to the hits!


I've decided to exclude the wedding sewing and the King & I costumes from this, even though I'm probably most proud of them, and keep this to the makes I did for myself. These are either the most worn or the most loved (since you can't wear a cocktail dress every day...) and are listed in no particular order:

1) Elisalotte Dress:

Definitely not a most-worn, but I really was happy with this one. It was inspired by a dress I saw on Pinterest (the link doesn't seem to work anymore, but the image is on my blog post here:) The fit was good, I liked the two-toned bow embellishment, and I felt great wearing it. Win!

2) Roam Tunic:

This one succeeded where the above failed so miserably! I wore this at least once a week throughout winter, and loved it. One positive thing about the Still Light debacle was that it made me really think about not just the garment I wanted (light grey knitted long jumper/tunic), but also what style I actually wanted and what would suit me best. I get lost in too much volume, so fitted was an immediate improvement. Something that can be layered is much more versatile (this works with jeans, leggings, fitted skirts with tights, alone or over tops...), and so is a more practical wardrobe addition. And while I don't like fussy details, I do like a bit of visual interest, so the cabled panel (with pocket!) is more "me" than the SL. Win!

3) Modified Coffee Date Dress:

I think this was my favourite refashion of 2013. It was an op shop find, and had actually been made by a home sewist. As dreadful as the design was (that's a full circle "cape" as bodice, people!), the workmanship was actually wonderful. I love the thought of giving an old, cherished-but-had-its-day garment a new lease of life. I used Pattern Runway's Coffee Date Dress for the new skirt, and reworked the bodice to fit. I was planning to do fitted, 3/4 length sleeves as per the pattern, but ended up making them floaty, as a nod to the original. The neckline I kept as was, since it was beautifully done, and sat so nicely when worn. I've worn this a lot during winter (tights, long boots, cardi) and spring. Win!

4) Kimono / Jacket / Shruggy Thing:

I drafted this after seeing a friend in one, and I love it. Thanks to the colours in this it goes with so much of my existing wardrobe, and it's a really useful garment. I keep discovering new things to wear it with. Plus, I can wear it on all but really hot or really cold days. Win!

5) Rowe Tops:

These are fairly new additions, but I wear them all the time. I'm including them in my top five because a) they're great basics and fit exactly the way I wanted them to, b) they represent my triumph over the intimidation of sewing with knits! Also, I've tended in the past to lean towards making more "stand alone" garments like dresses, but am trying now to sew things that are more versatile. I guess that's the difference between sewing random clothes and sewing a wardrobe, hey? These fit the bill - I want to make one in all of my favourite colours. 

Looking back over the things I've sewed this year I'm pretty happy overall. There have only been a handful of "wardrobe orphans" that don't go with anything else; most of the other things are practical, versatile garments that fit me, my taste and my lifestyle. I think I'm starting to get a handle on sewing successfully for myself. But I'll leave the Reflections, along with the Inspirations and Goals, for the next post!

Are you compiling the Top 5 for 2013? 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Complete: Giveaway Dress

Hello again :) Hope you're enjoying the festive season in your particular area of the world. My December seems to be calming down a bit now, thank goodness...and now I'm officially on holidays I'm hoping to get stuck into my projects pile. Major holiday goal: to make a wearable pair of shorts. Actually I have fabric for three different pairs, so I'm hoping all the wonderful reviews of Pattern Runway's Scalloped Shorts prove true in my case. (I'll keep you posted)

Before that though, here's my latest make: my Giveaway Dress. I'm calling it that because I won both the fabric and the pattern, along with lots of other goodies, in Sarah of Fabric Tragic's giveaway earlier this year. This fabric was the main reason I entered. I love its slightly retro feel, and to me it was a perfect match for the shirt dress pattern that came with it. Oh, I do love a good shirt dress!

Slightly dodgy, last minute, night time photo there, sorry. Navy, red and white always suggest summer to me - maybe it's that nautical connection - so I decided to do without the sleeves and finish the armholes with self bias binding. There was a generous three metres of fabric, but even so I only just had enough. There's quite a bit of fabric needed for the skirt - it's not a circle skirt, but it's not far off. Plus even though it looks random, the pattern is actually repeated; there's a fairly strong diagonal "line" happening there. I matched it up fairly well on the skirt, but miscalculated somewhere along the line with the front pieces; you can see that the red "Ls" (for want of a better term!) are bit off along the centre front. Still, I can live with that. If anyone points it out I can just tell them to stop staring at my chest...

Would you believe it? The bodice fit perfectly straight from the pattern! Hurrah for low-maintenance patterns :) You can see from the pattern envelope it blouses at the waist a bit when belted, but there wasn't quite enough fabric leftover to do the matching tie. I'm fine with that though; I can always add a belt. And it's really comfy like this. I did take it in a bit under the arms ( about 1.5cm I think), and I took the shoulders back by 4cm, but that was just to make it sit well without the sleeves.

I also took 1.5cm off the width of the collar. It's still substantial, but it's a bit less obviously "of it's time" now. They did like them big in the seventies, didn't they!

I've decided I really like the seventies' aesthetic. I haven't sewn many vintage patterns, but I think I may have found my decade :) I always thought it was the forties, so there you go! Thanks, Sarah ;)

One thing I really like about this pattern is the fit of the back. Like I said I'm no expert at vintage patterns but all the ones I have sewn seem to have little fit-related details that you don't typically see on modern patterns. This one had shoulder darts at the back, and I love how nicely that shapes the bodice. 

  The other "vintagey" detail I liked (but didn't actually do since I would've run out of fabric) was the generous hem allowance - 7.5cm / 3". Does anyone know why that was done? Does it make the hem sit more nicely, or help the skirt hang better? I'm curious...

The only other modification I made was to add pockets into the side seams. Because a summer dress absolutely needs pockets.

I'll definitely make this again sometime, perhaps in something a bit drapier like rayon or silk. And I very much like the contrast collar in the example. In the meantime, this version will be getting a lot of use. It makes me feel like going on a picnic, or on a beach walk....in short, it's an ideal summer dress!

Before I get started on my shorts I have a bit of unselfish sewing and knitting to do. Several family members have December birthdays, and the baby quilt for my nephew is well overdue. Not too much more to go, happily.

Are you sewing/knitting any gifts this year? Hope they're all going smoothly... and quickly!

Have a truly wonderful Christmas and festive season,

Danielle oxo

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Complete: Style Arc Rowe Top ( & Rowe Top...& Rowe Top...)

Hello all! I'm grabbing the first spare hour I've had in over a week to sit and post - honestly, December this year is feeling like a massive To-Do list. I think I'm usually pretty good at keeping things fairly relaxed over the festive season, but I've gotten right out of whack this time :/  Must remember for next year ... simplify!

I do have some big (for me) news though - I have made friends with knits! I've been genuinely intimidated by the notion of knit fabric for "ordinary" clothes. Even though I've made plenty of costumes using knits, I didn't really think I could achieve a nice, professional-looking finish on everyday wear. So even though I cut this pattern out back in - wait for it - May, it sat on the desk until two weeks ago. (Yup, this was one of the four projects I pledged to make for MMM. Oops.)

Two weeks ago though I decided it was ridiculous to be defeated by fabric and had a go. And in doing so I discovered my new favourite pattern! This is Style Arc's Rowe Top / Tunic. (I'm having trouble linking to it, but googling that should take you straight there :) ). I've been wanting a slouchy tee for a while, but a lot of the RTW ones I've tried on are very boxy, which is a look I really like - but only on other people. Also, a lot of them seem to gape at the neck, and I wanted something comfy I could move in without having to constantly glance down and check on.

It's nice and slouchy, but has a nice shape at the sides ( not that you can really tell on the hanger...) And I'm not sure how the fine folks at SA did it, but the neckline sits flat at all times. Hurrah! This was straight from the pattern with no modifications.

You know when you tell yourself you're only making a muslin, but you're actually really hoping it turns out to be a proper wearable garment? Here 'tis :)

The sleeves are finished with bands of the same fabric, which makes for a really nice finish.The only change I'd make from now on, and this is purely personal preference, would be to take a bit of volume out of the sleeve hem. 4cm / 1 1/2" would be just about perfect.

I like the design line on the back; I think it's a nice little added feature. Plus, it would lend itself to colour-blocking very nicely.

I had a bit of trouble getting a smooth stitching line at first - as you can see on that back seam above. But what I was more worried about was getting the hemline to look right (you know, not "homemade"). This was the main intimidation factor, after all! But my machine's instruction manual had this strange, random-sounding little tip that I'd never heard of before: If stitching line is not smooth, sew with a sheet of paper underneath.

I gave it a go, even though it sounded a bit like some editor was bored and having a laugh. You know what? It works! Below you can see the one of the first practice pieces lying over the top of the sewn-to-paper piece:

Who'd have thunk it! Mind you, I'd also like to add that you need to be very careful as you're tearing the paper away afterwards...One side at a time works best I found :)

A few months after I cut that one out I bought a beautiful remnant of a neutral coloured wool jersey (about 1.5m, I think). I bought it with this pattern in mind, hoping that one day I'd actually be brave enough to attempt it. Then I happened to notice that colour-wise it worked quite well with the sequin fabric I made my last post's Festive Skirt out of. I'm trying to get a bit more creative with leftover project scraps - I really hate waste - so I experimented a little. And I think it worked!

 From memory, the sleeves are 5cm / 2" shorter than the pattern, and hemmed rather than finished with the bands. I also combined the upper and lower back pieces into one pattern piece. This is easy - just match up notches and make sure the seam lines are laid on top of each other, rather than laying the pattern pieces edge to edge:

I generally cut out pattern pieces pretty frugally (a legacy of years of costuming on minimal budgets!), so once I'd done the one above I thought I just might be able to squeeze another top out of what was left over. This fabric is so soft and fine and warm, that it seemed a shame not to have a long sleeved top for winter out of it... And, as luck would have it, there was a post I'd read by Grainline a few days earlier that explained how to convert a short sleeved pattern into a long sleeved one. There was just enough to make it work!

There's probably a bit too much volume in the lower arm; I could have graded it in a bit so it was more noticeably 'batwing". And in a perfect world, I would have finished off the hem with a band also. But these are pretty small niggles overall, especially given I got my two tops out of one remnant!

So there you have it; my new go-to comfy pattern! Don't you just love accommodating patterns??

Do you have any "blank canvas" dependables like this one? Or any more tips for sewing with knits? Do share!

Have a wonderful week :)

Danielle oxo

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Inspired By: Festive Sewing

Hello and Happy December to you all! Since Christmas parties, work break ups and the like are just around the corner, I've been thinking Festive Sewing lately. After all, given my RTW ban this year, if I want something new I've got to DIY it. So I have!

Going back over my Pinterest boards I noticed I've pinned rather a lot of versions of these sequinned skirts:

Sequins are not really the kind of fabric I usually gravitate towards, but I really like the way this is "festive" without being too glitzy.... sequins for the introvert, if you like!

Then I found some fabric at Spotlight that I loved - a kind of muted bronze - and that decided it. I had some black silk chiffon that I thought would work as a sleeveless Style Arc Tiffany Blouse to go with it, but in the end I really wanted a top with a higher neckline to go with a mini (though not quite as mini as above!). Plus, to be completely honest, I couldn't face the thought of sewing chiffon just yet....

So instead I went with the Laurie Tee from Named Patterns. I've been wanting to try their designs since I saw them, so it was a good excuse!

At first I'd planned to use BHL's Charlotte Skirt pattern and lop off some length. But then I found New Look 6107 in amongst my patterns and thought its lower waistline and fewer darts might work better.

I already had a similarly coloured stable knit in my stash which I used to underline the sequins, since it's quite drapey and I wanted a more structured look. I used a lightweight fuse in the waistband, but I think if I ever make another I think I'd use something finer still; the seams got quite bulky.

I finished the inside seams with a zigzag stitch, but the hem I covered in wide organza ribbon folded in half and then stitched it down by hand. The raw edges where the sequins are cut are quite scratchy and I thought that the organza might give any tights I wear a fighting chance!

Now I'm not claiming to be an expert at all after one skirt, but just in case someone out there finds it useful, here are my thoughts on sewing sequinned fabric:

1.  Pick a pattern with as few seams as possible! There's no disguising seams or making them subtle - keep it simple :)

2.  Don't skimp on the basting if you underline it. Really. Do more than you think you need - it's worth it to have fabric that doesn't slip around or apart when you come to machine it. I found it really helpful to baste around the darts too.

3.  This didn't seem to be an issue with this particular fabric because the sequins are so tiny (see below), but for most of the other fabrics I saw I think it would be wise (and kinder on your machine and needle) to remove sequins along the seam lines. I've had to do that with beaded fabrics in the past, and I think most sequin fabric might require similar treatment. (I kind of wish I'd removed all of the sequins from all seam allowances in order to "de-bulk" the seams too) In which case...

4.  ....save all the removed sequins to hand sew back on once seams are sewn. Dull but again worth it.

5.  A longer stitch length seems to give a smoother finish. I used the 3 1/4 setting on my machine.

6.  Hand finish wherever possible!

I'm sure that's not a comprehensive list, but those are my discoveries anyhow. :)

On to the top. This probably shouldn't have worked - which is no comment at all on the pattern, believe me! It's drafted for knit fabrics, and this is a woven with a little bit of spandex thrown in. I couldn't find any knits that were fine enough for the blousey look I wanted. So I got this, hoping that since it's a looser fit the lesser stretch wouldn't be too much of an issue. And it wasn't - in the body. But the neck...well, let's just say I'll be doing hair and makeup after I've got it on! I cut the neckband piece on the bias, and that's the only reason I can get it on at all.

You can see that even with the bias cut, I've stretched it a little getting it on and off...

The only modifications I made to the pattern was to shape it at the sides a bit. I'll probably only ever wear it tucked in, but just in case I do wear it out I need a bit of shape for flattery. Boxy cuts don't really work on me. It's a great pattern though, and has definitely whetted my appetite to try more Named designs.

I've had a bit of a think about how else I can wear the skirt; I'm really trying to get a bit more adventurous when it comes to styling. I think it'll work for winter, with opaque tights and a cropped jumper/sweater. And I think, under certain circumstances, it could be dressed down with a slouchy tee, sandals and a denim jacket. Or it could work with a cardi, or a white shirt, or singlet top. It's actually more versatile than I first thought!

But, I have two questions that I'd love some advice on:

1: All my choices above work I think, but are pretty "safe" colour combinations. What colour or colours would you pair with bronze?

and 2:  How on earth do you wash/clean/ care for sequins??

Any advice would be much appreciated!

Have a wonderful week :)

Danielle oxo