Monday, 30 May 2016

#MenditMay: re-mend it

On the last day of Mend It May I'm reviewing what's on my mend-it pile. It occurred to me that I have some re-mends to do and some mending that I know will eventually turn into re-mend projects, simply because there weak spots where you put more wear and tear on your clothes.

elbow patch

A couple of years ago I decided to mend a jacket that suited visible patching because it is 'grungy' in style. It's comfortable and I like it. I patched up worn parts on the elbows and cuffs (the places where most of us find wear and tear). I used curtain fabric scraps that I had to hand. I knew the fabrics were prone to fraying, but as I liked them I figured a little needlework in time would fix the problem.


A trimming of frayed fibres and over-stitching with embroidery cotton, and it'll be ready to wear again. More wear further round the cuffs means additional patches too.


A pair of jeans has a large rip in the derrière. My jeans always rip here first so I thought that as this was rather a big mend and they'll wear here again I might as well consign them to the rags pile. Mending and re-mending, patching and over-patching is a foreign concept in our throw-away society, but there is a backlash, and one sign of that is that Boro mending has been gaining popularity on Pinterest. Boro is a Japanese textile that has been repeatedly patched, often to such an extent that the original textile is hard to discern. See an image I have on my  Not a patch on patchwork Pinterest board.

They might be gardening/DIY jeans but they'll still be a surviving favourite pair, and if it prays on my mind that I am short of time for mending at the moment (that's a perennial feeling) then I can always remember that it would probably take more time to search for a new pair of jeans that fit well than it would to make the repair. It looks like, in time, I will have a Boro patched behind.


Saturday, 21 May 2016

Freehand pattern drafting versus standard pattern drafting


I've been comparing pattern drafting by the freehand method (drafting directly on to fabric) and standard drafting of paper pattern pieces. I wore an outfit to a friend's wedding recently that I made by using both methods.

Some time ago I made a pattern for a skirt block - a straight, knee length skirt which can be used as a template for other styles. I made this using the standard pattern drafting method. It worked well, and I was happy with the fit, but somehow I didn't progress further and it languished amongst my fabric stash. Out it came recently, and seeing as the fabric had a nice feel and texture to it, I decided to finish it, line it and wear it. Leafing through my newly acquired Freehand Fashion: Learn to sew the perfect wardrobe - no patterns required! I saw the top I wanted to make to go with it: a batwing jersey knit top.

This meant drafting straight on to the fabric using measurements from the bodice block described in the book. Having made all my measurements, I made up the bodice block with calico before making the batwing top. I have also since made flare and full flare skirt blocks using this technique.

Having got this far, I think the freehand sewing method, once you're familiar with it, could prove to be quicker and bypasses some irksome tasks. Here are some comparisons of the two techniques:

Drafting and cutting
Standard drafting on to paper involves drafting out separate back and front pieces for bodice or dress/skirt/trousers then sleeves, collar and pockets etc if needed, which are then pinned onto one long length of fabric along the fold or on the straight grain, in the same way as you would if using a commercial sewing pattern. Using the freehand method, the fabric for each part (say, the bodice) is usually folded in half, then in half again with a fold overlying a cut edge, along which a seam allowance is pressed under... like so.

Fabric folded for freehand sewing
The measurements for the front and back are then marked together onto the quadruple-folded fabric, starting on the right-hand side at the folded edge overlying the cut edge (as on the image above). Some measurements for front and back are the same, and some diverge, making two outlines. The top two layers are usually cut along the outline for the front, and the bottom two layers along the outline for the back. Hey presto - your two pattern pieces. A single front folding out, and two back pieces with pressed in seam allowances. Clever, and it's all the folding.

I've flipped it round this time (cut edges uppermost) to make a jacket.

Freehand drafting in progress
Making multiple patterns
So, if you have paper patterns and want to make multiple garments from the same pattern, simply pin the paper pieces on to new fabric and off you go. If you want to customise, trace the pattern pieces and make your alterations. With freehand sewing you do need to mark out measurements each time from scratch. But, there's no pinning, no twisting paper pieces to lie on a straight grain, and it's quicker to cut out.

An aspect of freehand sewing I like is that for each main part (bodice, skirt, sleeves etc) a piece of fabric is cut to a sufficient width and length which is usually small enough to lay out on a table and mark up. No moving around a long length of fabric on the floor on my hands and knees - this is not my favourite task!

A disadvantage could be slightly less economy in fabric use, but maybe that's a small price to pay. Have you tried any of these methods? What do you think?

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Is it worth making your own sewing patterns?

Old and new books on pattern drafting
Have you wondered if it might be worthwhile to draw up (or draft) your own sewing patterns? Whilst shop bought sewing patterns have a lot of flexibility built in to allow you to fit to your height and shape, there are some reasons why you might want to DIY your own. This post is less of a 'how to' and more of a 'why?' - not only in practical terms, but those less tangible too. Perhaps I'm also getting somewhat philosophical here.

Is it difficult, particularly for a sewer with their 'L' plates on? I think not, especially if you start simple. Isn't that the case with everything? After all, Chinelo Bally, runner up in the  The Great British Sewing Bee 2014, had never used a commercial sewing pattern, and hadn't been making her own clothes for long when she started the show. She used a 'freehand sewing' technique (meaning pattern drafting directly on to fabric), and she stole the show with her designs.

Could pattern drafting be for you? That depends on you and how you like to work, but here are 5 circumstances that might sway you:
  • If your not so standard height and figure have you making repeat adjustments to each new shop-bought sewing pattern. Some of us swiftly make the odd adjustment here and there, some of us need to make more....
  • When you can't find what you're looking for in the pattern books. Perhaps you have an eclectic taste, or a liking for a varied range of vintage style
  • If you want to cut the cost of each sewing project
  • If you want to be the creator from start to finish, to be self-sufficient and freed from 'buying a style' or 'buying the fit'
  • When curiosity reigns (getting back to first principles appeals)
Pattern drafting doesn't mean getting your paper, pens, ruler and measuring tape out and starting from scratch each time with a blank piece of paper (or fabric) for each new design, staring into space and waiting for inspiration. That would be frustrating, and if that were the case I wouldn't blame you for turning away right now. However, by taking some detailed body measurements and creating basic patterns for a straight skirt, a close fitting, round-neck bodice and straight-leg, close fitting trousers to fit you exactly, you have your basic patterns, called 'block's or 'slopers'. They incorporate all your idiosyncrasies which are wrapped up and revealed by your body measurements, and from there all manner of styles can materialise with a few changes to the original block pattern. An extra couple of darts here, a cut and splaying of the pattern there, an additional seam, an additional pocket. The world is your oyster.

It occurred to me, some time ago after I'd spent time cutting out pattern pieces, shortening at several points to fit the 4' 11' me and adjusting for a less than standard figure, that this might be worth a go. How many of us fit what is accepted as a normal figure?

I happen to be so short that even petite clothes in the shops can be too long, and hence, I shorten sewing patterns at several points (so for instance at armhole level, between bust and waist, between waist and hips) every time I start a new pattern. I'm in repeat mode. Most patterns have lengthening and shortening lines as a guide, which helps, but it involves a certain amount of fiddling around each time. I chanced upon Make your own patterns by Rene Burgh several years ago, and whilst flicking through, realised that if I made the basic body blocks to my height, all other designs resulting from these would have my just-shy-of-5' figure built in.

I've always had less waist definition than most shop-bought clothes and sewing patterns allow for, and another fitting issue to deal with. You probably have your own versions of 'wonkiness' too, but in effect, you could account for these once in making your building blocks, then concentrate on changing the design: the fun part!



There is plenty of choice in sewing patterns, but you can still find yourself stuck looking for a particular shape and style, despite the choice, or find yourself bamboozled by all the choice. Two opposite extremes. There is something about going back to basic building blocks which can focus the mind. You might decide to take the basic bodice and widen the neckline. Then next time you add a round, flat collar, and next time you convert from darts to princess seams with little pocket flaps at the hips. You're taking yourself on a journey - there's progression.

make your own sewing patterns

I like the self-sufficiency involved. If I'm looking for something new to make and the shops are closed, I could get my thinking hat on, draft up a new pattern, and be started on a new project before the shops open again, or an online-bought pattern drops through the letter box. And, I haven't touched the bank account.

That said, I am somewhat fixated these days on going back to first principles. So, if I'm assembling clothes from a pattern, then I wonder 'how did someone design that?', 'how did we manage before commercial sewing patterns appeared?' It's like disappearing down a rabbit hole. How was that fabric made? There's another rabbit hole to disappear down. You just have to decide which rabbit hole is the one for you.

My choice at the moment is between pattern drafting on to paper (brown paper or baking paper) to make paper patterns or directly on to fabric, following my recent purchase of Chinelo Bally's  Freehand Fashion: Learnt to sew the perfect wardrobe - no patterns required!. I'm comparing the two approaches.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Flea Fair Finds: Vintage fabric


Recently I went to the Malvern Flea Fair (my nearest flea market), and came home with two pieces of charming vintage tartan and cotton fabric of - I don't know what age - but I liked it. I frequent the fair, usually looking for finds for the house, but this time my attention wandered to fabric and vintage clothes stalls.

My wandering attention at the Flea Fair mirrored where my attention is wandering at home - to fabric, clothes and dressmaking. I have a long list of knitting, crochet and spinning ideas that I'd like to adventure my way through, but they're going to have to take a back seat as a) I'm aware that my wardrobe needs some attention, and sewing makes for quick results b) I have a specific dressmaking project that I've committed myself to.

I have spent three years, dressed for much of my spare time in DIY clothes (paint splattered, wood finishing oil stained etc) whilst renovating the house, and lately crafting activities have centered around items for the home. Not surprisingly, my interest in clothes waned, but mostly because of a lack of time and wherewithal. Now, it's back, and I riffle through the clothes hangers and sigh. I have started a wardrobe cull (therapeutic) to get me back to the essentials that I like. Knowing that I have a fabric stash to rival my yarn stash, I have decided that from now on new clothes will materialise from this squirrelled away store. BUT, it must now come into the daylight. I RESIST the High Street shops, I turn the other way!

So why buy more fabric? Good question. I guess, my only excuse is that this was nearly a month ago, and the extent of my unused fabric had not quite sunk in. Otherwise, I'm like the naughty child that disobeys orders.... and I can't resist some quality pure wool.

vintage tartan

I just couldn't leave it behind. I've said before that pure wool is hard to find on the High Street, and it's becoming a recurring thought. I'm guessing that the mustard coloured tartan skirt length on the left (above) is 1950s to 60s. It was made by Chas H Whillans of Hawick, Scotland who still exist, and still specialise in woollens. I picture a plaid skirt, but not a traditional kilt for this fabric.

Flea Fair fabric

The red tartan and the cottons, I bought to make a spare set of co-ordinated cushion covers. Not being clothes, that project is on the back burner.




I return to reason b) for getting back to dressmaking. Later in the year Mr L and I are getting married, and after some deliberation, I have decided to make my own bridal outfit. Friends and family are agog that I should decide to do such a thing. I think they picture the lace-overlaid, chiffon-ruched bridal gowns to be seen in bridal outfitters. But I have a different idea. I would like something I could wear again, either as originally made or in an altered form. A number of principles have sprung to mind for this outfit which I'm unlikely to achieve from most bridal outfitters. My design-mind is turned on, my antennae buzzing, searching for fabric, and some yarn too (it will feature wool).

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Saturday, 27 February 2016

Crochet: easier to learn than you might think


Prompted by a comment posted by a follower, I thought I would air a few thoughts on learning to crochet as, recently, more than one person has said to me that they would like to learn how to crochet (or knit) but don't think they would have the time or the ability.

Crochet, though, like many other skills is built upon a foundation of very simple steps - from little acorns big things do grow (like fully fledged granny square blankets, for example). AND you need not spend a penny, 10 pence, a £ or ££££s (or $$$$$s). U-tube can be your friend, and the time taken to get from the acorn stage to something bigger could be shorter than you would think.

To start at the beginning, about six months ago I taught the basics of crochet to a couple of friends at a 'Crafty Creatures' meeting. We are a group of friends who meet on a Friday evening once a month. In one evening my fellow creatures managed to learn how to crochet a foundation chain, then start a slim practice scarf (think tie or teddy bear scarf) with rows of double crochet, half treble and treble stitch (UK crochet terms). From these stitches a multitude of creations can be made.

I'm quite surprised we got that far. Can you picture the scene? Fellow crafty creatures arrive in dribs and drabs, bums shuffle around the sofa until we are all settled, then we break open a bottle of wine or two. Snacks are opened, tipped into bowls and onto plates and the chatting/gossiping starts. Learning to crochet is interspersed between guzzling wine, munching snacks and chin-wagging. It's surprising that we manage to do any crafting at all, but generally we do.

I intended to get my two crochet students starting a granny square, but we didn't get that far. Following that session, fellow crafty creature, Aisling, learnt to crochet granny squares using a U-tube video, and in very little time had an impressive collection of granny squares, ready to make into a granny square throw. If you're thinking 'but I don't have anyone to show me the basics!', fear not, for there are umpteen U-tube tutorials on the basics of crochet, and just about any other craft you can think of.

I'm a fan of craft books, but if you're unsure whether you want to commit to buying a book, this could be the way to go. Since US and English crochet terminology is different, I'd suggest typing 'U-Tube UK' or U-Tube US' depending on where you are. Australian and UK terminology is comparable.

As I learnt to crochet at a young age, I haven't searched U-Tube for crochet tutorials until now, but I have spent some time at the U-tube 'University' figuring out other crafts (mostly spinning). I have found that the style of tutorial varies from slow-and-detailed to get-straight-to-the-point, so you need to find the style that suits you.

Having said that; here's two examples using UK crochet terms:

Double Crochet Stitch (dc) U.K. by Crochet Hooks You

Crochet for beginners: Easy traditional granny square

So, get your chosen U-tube tutorial ready, hook and yarn poised, and off you go. Hit pause, re-wind, replay until you've got it!

Update: Fellow follower, Katherine Hetzl of Squidge's Scribbles, who's comment prompted this post, has been busy. With her daughter, after teaching herself crochet only very recently, she has created a lovely granny square blanket. It didn't take long from the first steps.....See Crochet collaboration.




Saturday, 20 February 2016

Trash batts #1: spinning with yarn scraps

I've mentioned that my saving of scraps of just about anything (yarn, fabrics, carding waste etc) knows no bounds, see Remnants and scraps: when are they too small to use? After using fabric remnants to make curtains I've finally come round to using up another class of scrap or remnant - the scraps of yarn left over from sewing in ends into a granny square blanket.

yarn scraps
Yarn scraps
I'm rather fond of some tweedy wool I have in my yarn stash and wanted to make yarn like it myself, so I'd saved these scraps with the idea that I would snip them into little pieces and add into wool during carding to achieve a tweedy effect.

The granny square blanket project has been an on-and-off affair. Deliberately, I should add, as it's handy to have a project on the go when you need something that's portable, easy to pick up, and kind of mindless in a nice way. Anyway, I digress. I'd got to a point where I thought that a round of squares fringed in dark, chocolate brown needed breaking up with some squares which weren't so solid dark brown: a little mottled, and yes, tweedy. So, the bag of scraps was unearthed.

My first task was to spit the yarn ends into single strands as I thought that the dk/light worsted weight would be too thick to wind itself into the yarn during spinning. It proved to be time consuming, but not in a bad way as it's that mindless activity again that has its place - this time whilst watching tv.



I then snipped the pile of scraps into short lengths in no time at all, and mixed them into a carded batt made up of Black Welsh and Shetland Moorit combed tops and small slivers of pink carding waste to make a delightful fluffy pile. The pink carding waste is left over from fleece dyed with the exhaust from a madder dye bath .

carded batt incorporating scraps

And so I began to spin (this time on a drop spindle), but it didn't take long to realise that the wool scraps were slightly too long and seemed determined to escape being entirely trapped into the new yarn. All well and good for an art yarn where random loose ends are 'de rigeur', but that wasn't the effect I was looking for.

Back to the drawing board. This time I got scissor-happy and snipped the yarn scrap pile into 1cm long smaller piles, and this time -success!

homespun tweedy yarn
Left: home-spun yarn from trash batts; Right - shop-bought yarn
The squares fringed with this wool merged in nicely with the solid dark brown:


Meanwhile, the on-going crochet blanket has not been one of those projects where I feel I have to wait an age to appreciate the results, as it is already in use as a lap-warmer.... just one that grows a little when I have spare time to add on a few more squares whilst in the middle of something else.


The something else is pattern drafting and sewing. More on that another time.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Herdwick wool socks

Herdwick wool (left), unknown wool (right)
The Herdwick wool #swatchalong has rapidly resulted in a pair of socks, and not only that, two pairs of socks. The grey Herdwick wool knitted up nicely, and I now have a very warm pair for padding round the house in. They were quick to knit (in aran/worsted weight wool), so I thought 'why not knit a pair for Mr L?'. We are not given to sporting his and hers outfits, so this is a one-off.

I found some pure wool skeins, which I've had for a while, in the loft. I don't know if this is a particular breed of wool as I bought this from a charity shop - what a lucky find: I rarely find pure wool in charity shops. I'd not used it as, like the Herdwick, it seemed a little itchy for a woolly jumper or cardigan, but at any rate, it's a suitable manly colour and seemed to have the qualities I described in #Swatchalong: Herdwick swatch.

charity shop wool

The pattern is from Classic:15 timeless designs to knit and keep forever by Erica Knight, called 'Slouch Socks'. They are knitted as one flat piece and seamed together. As I've only previously knitted socks in the round, I thought I might end up with an ugly, ungainly seam rather than an invisible seam, but by using grafting, it turned out fine.

Invisible seam
Grafted seam
They are simple, functional socks, but they have a pleasing quality that is hard to find in regular shop bought socks. We have just come out of a brief cold snap, during which they were very welcome!


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