Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Butterick B5317 - Not a great start.

I've started my first garment!

Butterick b5317 by Maggy London

It's a little more advanced than I thought I'd begin with, but I was lulled into a false sense of security by the "very easy" emblazoned on the envelope. Equally persuasive was the fact that I already owned the pattern so no extra expenditure needed.

I got all the paper out of the envelope and read the instructions carefully. A lot of it made no sense, but I figured it'd all make more sense later, probably after wine. I carefully cut out the pattern pieces according to the sizing of my widest point and pressed them all with a warm, dry iron to get rid of the packet crumples. So far, so good.

Then I got out the fabric I was going to use for my muslin or practice dress. I'd been to purchase it the previous day from the fabric shop in town, where my inexperience positively radiated off me. I had a little browse until I found the least intimidating member of staff. Turns out she didn't work there. Awkward. So I found someone else instead and told her I needed to make a muslin and that I needed something cheap and easy. She suggested actual muslin, so I bought the two metres required by the pattern and skipped off home.

With all my paper pattern cut out I started trying to arrange it on the fabric according to the suggestions on the pattern guide.

They didn't fit.

Fine, I'd obviously read it wrong.

Nope. Could I blame the fabric? 

At this point the tape measure vanished and I still haven't found it. The only option was a tiny ruler last used in the 90's. The fabric turned out to be 5 and a half lengths of this ridiculous ruler, roughly 99 cms. It was at this point I realised I didnt know how wide it was supposed to be in the first place. Quick google. Quick check of the back of the packet. Sixty inches. Sixty inches is not 99 cms, sixty inches is 152 cms.

I had to have a tea break.

Feeling slightly less murderous after the tea, I decided to cut my loses and the fabric and cut enough to make and line the bodice whilst I waited to get hold of more muslin.

The next problem? Muslin is too drapey. Too soft and billowy. This dress needs more stiffness and I need sharper scissors. All in all not a great start. But it's all experience right?

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Running before I can walk

I got a bit carried away. I bought patterns. I can't sew in a straight line, but I have dreams.

They are beautiful and I get them out and stroke them a little. Lets hope they're still my style in 3 years eh?

The first is the beautiful Butterick 5882, one of the retro "Patterns by Gertie". (Everyone has seen her blog right?) I get to go to a few formal events every now and again and always struggle to find something interesting to wear, so at some point I'm going to be brave and make this very slowly.

The second is also a Butterick pattern, Butterick 5884 and by Suzi Chin for Maggy Boutique. Admittedly it was probably the gorgeous fabric I noticed first, but who doesn't love a non-clingy wrap dress? And view A on the pattern leaves out the sleeves if they are a little too outré.

What next? Well, the very lovely Tilly (also from the Great British Sewing Bee) has a lovely blog and makes her own patterns with rather excellent looking online tutorials. I might have a go at her miette skirt which she recommends as a nice easy first project. Or possibly the hollyburn skirt from sewaholic. Choices choices...
I'll will certainly be making a muslin and posting everything right here. 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Handstitching Part I - Seams

In 'Vogue Sewing' there are a full 4 pages dedicated to 21 different hand stitches. I'd heard of a grand total of 5 of them. I have vowed to remedy this.
So I painstakingly ironed a bit of very crumpled old sheet and have started to wonkily stitch my way through them all.

I'm starting with seams and I'm starting easy.

Running stitch is the most simple, the needle simply weaves its way in and out of the fabric every few millimetres. It isn't very robust, so it shouldn't be used for seams under any strain, but it could be used for securing tucks (small decorative folds of fabric, maybe on the front of a blouse). Also used for easing and gathering where you want to bunch the fabric up along a thread.

Next is backstitch which is a lovely strong stitch and really for repairing tricky seams where you can't get a machine in.
First bring the needle from the reverse to the front of the fabric, then poke it back through a few millimetres (mm) behind and bring it out a few mm in front. If you pull the thread down, you should be making a 'T' shape with every stitch.

This is the same fabric. Proof that I ought to work on my photography.

The right side of the stitching has very neat even stitches which touch, just like machined stitching. The wrong side has overlapping stitches and when I do it looks like a right mess.

(It looked quite nice on the other side in my defence)

The half-backstitch, can be used for any seam according to Vogue Sewing. It uses almost the same method of backstitch, but when the needle is taken backwards you only go half the way back to the previous stitch, but the needle is taken forward further.

Prickstitch is just a smaller version of the half-backstitch, when you create the stitch going backwards, only a few threads are caught. This stitch is used to insert zippers.

Next time... Hemming!  Also... better lit photos!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Great British Sewing Bee

So, did you see the finale of the Great British Sewing Bee last night? I’ve been religiously watching the (tiny) series and wishing it was longer. 

I loved that the series was all about techniques rather than fashion-forward-ness. However, I think it could be even better if they ditched the twee customisation challenges. The surprise pattern and a pre-prepared masterpiece would have been more than enough and allowed more time for construction details. And wouldn’t it have been lovely if the BBC had published the surprise pattern on their website after each show? Although I guess they’re probably saving them for an accompanying book?  

I found it very difficult to choose a favourite contestant, but I did think the right woman won. Anne made such beautiful and classic garments and never seemed to get in a flap, but then what would you expect from someone with 75 years of experience? When she chose khaki linen for her mens shirt, I wasn’t sure, but the final product looked beautifully made and seemed to fit her body form so much better than the other sewers offerings.

I have a bit of a beginners query about Sandra’s evening wear (below). The judges said it draped perfectly and didn’t question the fit. I thought there was too much fullness under the bust, especially when you considered how closely it fitted over the hips.

My favourite evening dress from last night though was Laurens evening dress, whilst the style isn’t something I’d wear, I thought the fit and fabric were wonderful. Who doesn’t love sequins?!

Will there be another series? I really hope so! And if not, can I move into the studio please?

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Vogue Sewing

So where to start?
Well, I'm a PhD student. So I ordered a text book. I know, I know.

I bought the rather enormous Vogue Sewing and I'm still reading it. It came quite a while ago and I'm very keen, but you can't just read a textbook. Experience should have taught me this.

Published by sixth&spring books and available here

Aside from not being able to devour it like a novel, it seems really rather good. There are some wonderful looking tables and guides to fabrics, interfacings and linings. And when I need to reference it I have no doubt it'll be fabulous, but I have a sneeking suspicion that I might actually just need to get on with it and learn on the go. Maybe I could just read to the end of chapter 6 'construction basics', only 80 pages to go? Or maybe I should get started before Autumn.  Hmmm.

What have I particularly liked about it so far? Well in terms of usefulness I found chapter 4 the best for a beginner, less of it seemed to wash over me. The pages of sewing accessories (needles, threads, trims etc..) and sewing tools were actually fascinating and taught me all sorts of things I'd never thought of. For example, needles with a rounded tip are best for knitted fabrics, because they slip more easily between the yarns helping to avoid snagging. They also talk about sewing tape with measurements printed on one side to help keep stitching even, which reminded me that I'd noticed Lauren using something similar on the Great British Sewing Bee to ensure her shirring was neatly spaced. It's so nice to read something you've never heard of before and think, "actually I might have seen that somewhere, it can't be all that strange and foreign, I know what they're talking about!".  

It was first published in 1970 and the chapter where that's most noticable is the first, 'the fashion game'. I do most of my reading with a cup of tea and there were two pages in particular where I was in danger of snorting it everywhere. It's sort of charmingly rude and filled with the sort of obvious but non-PC suggestions you imagine an elderly aunt might make. For example - "If you are ten to twenty pounds overweight, you could try to lose weight". Or the wonderfully misleading "Excess weight also strains the muscles so that they cannot hold the chest, stomach, and buttocks in their proper positions; these areas then sag."  I particularly like the picture below, I'm almost surprised the overweight lady doesn't have a sad face. 

Taken from Vogue Sewing

Jesting aside, I do really like it. I don't think I'll be buying another sewing reference book for a while, this should do me wonderfully until I can see more clearly what is lacking. Even then, at £20 a pop for a book like this I might be more tempted to try the library first. Afterall, having read chapter 4 I now have a fairly long haberdashery shopping list!

p.s. I have no vested interests, nobody has sent me anything free or paid me a penny, mores the pity. 

Monday, 22 April 2013

I have to be honest...

I have to be honest. I might have sewn a few bits before. 

1. Some rather sensible cushions in a lovely Laura Ashley floral. (My mum held my hand)
2. Some rather ridiculous but really brilliant bear outfits.

The cushions were beautiful. When they were finished I was a little bit in love, they were so neat and pretty and that was entirely down to my Mum. I made them in response to the new enormous brown leather sofas in my rented flat, which when unadorned looked suspiciously like giant piles of poo.

The beautiful fabric and my newspaper pattern.
The final product at two years old + a bit of poo sofa.

Apart from the piping, they were fairly simple. One large square for the front and two rectangles for the back to form an overlapping opening for the stuffing. I drew the pattern all by myself, but drawing rectangles isn’t very hard. The piping was another matter. I’ll do a separate post on it later as describing it is a bit wordy and I really want to talk about bear outfits. 

I look a bit miserable here. Also I didn't imagine I was going to write a blog about this so I didn't think to take a nice full length photo of just me. But you get the idea, we all looked daft as brushes.

The bear costumes were originally for a festival in Kendal, there were five of us going and originally I was only going to make two of the bears. However as the date loomed I found myself making a panda, a koala, a brown bear, a black bear and a slightly different brown bear (I ran out of ursine inspiration). There was some very frantic sewing. Some actually on the campsite. URGH. 
Each costume consisted of a hat with ears and a strapless minidress of sorts, a tube roughly the circumference of each bear’s widest point (hips or bust) in stretchy fleece. The dress had a little fat tail and a contrasting faux fur belly. The belly was only attached along the top and bottom and made a great, if wildly unflattering pocket or muff. 
The sewing wasn't top quality, I did it by hand in a hurry and faux fur and fleece are not summer fabrics, even up north. However they were so much fun to make and wear! And that's how these two projects planted a seed (quite a slow growing one) that I'd quite like to get better at this sewing malarkey, so here goes nothing...