Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Crochet blanket: candy, unicorn, rainbows...

Another home-made Christmas gift is this blanket, which I've been working on for several months. It started, like all my crochet projects, as a stash-busting exercise. However, as usual, I could only get so far with my leftovers, after using up every last scrap of DK weight, pastel-ish coloured yarns.  I also used doubled-up sock yarn and even some heavier aran weight yarns too, to try to push the scraps as far as possible. And as you can see, some of the colours aren't quite pastel either!

I decided quite early on that this wouldn't be a perfectly planned, Cath Kidson-esque blanket; but a far more home made feeling one, which much more character. So, although the majority of the yarns used are fuzzy wool blends, there is the odd (green) round of shiny cotton. Also many of the stripes are not perfect pairs (two rounds per colour, like in the centre); and even the rounds are not completed in only one colour, but are interrupted partway through. This is solely down to running out of yarn, and picking the closest I had available to the shade.

The blanket got fairly large before I had to admit defeat and buy some new balls of yarn to finish it. I wanted it to be an actual usable size for an adult, not just a tiny lap or child-sized blanket. Unfortunately due to fluorescent lighting in the shop, the yarns I chose turned out to be quite a bit darker and stronger-coloured in real light/life. You can notice this in the blue section on the outside. As Christmas by this point was fast-approaching, I didn't have any time to exchange them in the shop; and cranked out the rest of the blanket with a week's commuting on the tube.

I finished it off with a wavy shell edging, but as I was so last-minute this year there was no time to block it and get it dry. I do regret not being able to wet block it, as this would have made the blanket look much better. Nonetheless, my sister was very pleased with it, and the family very impressed.


My teenage sister is currently demonstrating conflicts between super-girly-cute-rainbow-unicorn-pastel-glitter-candy love, and emo-goth-indie-everything-black-and-grey-and-lots-of-eyeliner. Obviously this blanket is a nod to the former. It's OK to subscribe to more than one style though, and the teen years are prime for experimentation in looks. Now she can be all cosy, too.


Sunday, 27 December 2015

Christmas makes for toddlers

Hello & Merry Christmas! Hope that everyone has managed to have a relaxing, food-filled festive season.

Normally I am one of those people who gets all the Christmas presents in November and wraps them up in the week before Christmas. I prefer it that way - it means I'm organised, don't have to keep thinking about it, and managed to avoid all the Christmas shopping rush and stress at the end. But for one reason or another, this year didn't turn out like that at all, and everything was super last-minute. My partner and I only bought a Christmas tree on the 23rd, and I was actually finishing off a final present on Christmas day!

I made quite a few things this Christmas (and just about managed to take a few photos along the way...) including a couple of things for two toddlers in the family. These were planned-but-badly-timed last-minute projects, made from my stash. Thank goodness children are small!

These adorable shorts were made from a 1970s sewing pattern that I don't know how appeared in my stash. The fabric is really lovely, almost like deckchair fabric but much lighter. I bought it when I was 17 or so (7 years ago!) to make a 1950s sun suit; however I didn't buy enough fabric so it's been hoarded in my stash ever since.

Isn't the pattern just too darling?! I was actually hoping to make the trousers, but again didn't really have enough fabric. So, the shorts it was! The braces are attached with buttons, and I sewed extra ones on so that they can be lengthened in the future. No wedgies for Baby.

The shorts were quick to make, just zipping down the seams on my overlocker and doing rolled hems for the waistband and leg hems. I used a really lovely, heavy grey twill tape from my stash for the button loops and brace stabiliser. Even though you never see it, it just gives such a nice effect when contrasted with that lovely red stripe. It's finished with a hanging loop of gingham ribbon to mark the back.

I celebrated Christmas with my family on the 24th, and spent the whole dinner jumping up and down, excited for the Baby (not really a baby any more...) to open the present and wear them! Luckily he's not yet at the age of being self-conscious and cool, and was more than happy to prance around all evening in his cotton 'lederhosen', tee hee!  Above, he is eating a chicken drumstick with his mum & dad there.

I was paranoid that the braces would be too short but they were actually a smidge long, and kept falling off his shoulders. This is good though, it means that he'll be able to wear them in the summer. (Although at 14 °C lately, it's hardly winter weather!)

I also made this striped T-shirt for another toddler in the family - who thanks to this handy chart I just worked out is my third cousin! (My grandmother's cousin's grandson). It's made from the leftovers of my penitentiary pyjamas. It's trimmed in vintage red plastic buttons and poppers open at the shoulder.  No pictures of him wearing it unfortunately as I met with my extended family on the 20th, so no presents were opened. You'll just have to have more of the Christmas Boy instead!



Tuesday, 8 December 2015

knickers x 3 - and tips for beginning sewing underwear!

After spending quite a long time amassing the vast range of materials required, I've been making some first forays into lingerie sewing. Continuing to make good on my ambitions to sew items that I need and use in daily life, here are my first three attempts at sewing everyday knickers...

1. The experiment.

Very quickly knocked up out of viscose jersey and some really pretty lingerie elastic that had been hanging around in my stash for ages. The pattern is a free pdf from So, Zo.

These knickers are very bad, as you can see - I didn't really have the hang of how to stretch the elastic as I sewed it in. Additionally, I found that the pattern came up very large. I was pretty ecstatic about sewing my very own pair of knickers though, so I wore them all day - and they didn't fall down! I called it success.

2. Pretty in lace.

I wasn't overly sold on the cut of the So, Zo knicker pattern as it was more of a 'shortie' kind of style, and a bit clunky on me. This pair was made from the bikini pattern included in the Watson bra pdf (not free). I made this pair from stretch lace and much-less-luxurious picot elastic from Barnet & Lawson. The elastic was of poorer quality, but I had a much better hand at stitching/stretching in the elastic this time round.

I liked the cut much better, though these knickers really are brief! More improvements were needed though, as the elastic stretch wasn't distributed symmetrically enough for me.

3. Secretly scarlet.


My third pair was yet another experiment. I had a red cotton T-shirt hanging around from who-knows-where and decided to utilise it for sewing. I had the idea of sewing pretty, scanty knickers but with a red gusset. Ladies, is there not an understanding of keeping a few pairs of 'period pants' in your underwear drawer? Namely, those old, worn out, ugly but (debatably) comfortable knickers for the 'time of the month'. Well, I really hate owning ugly things, especially lingerie. Periods are uncomfortable and an inconvenience - why make things worse by giving yourself depressing underwear? The red gusset is invisible when worn because the knickers are so skimpy that the gusset tucks completely between your legs. It's there 'in case of emergency', so that you don't risk totally ruining a beautiful pair of undies.

I was looking to further improve on my elastic sewing skills here. I'd been following the mostly-lingerie-sewing blog Madalynne, where she staunchly advocates sewing the elastics in flat rather than stretching them. I'd also read some advice online from an experienced costume maker who specialised in stretch costumes. She said to stretch the elastic more over the bum than on the front of the leg. This makes complete sense: your legs move forwards more, so the back leg-hole will need to stretch to cling to the body and accommodate movement. So, I decided to try to combine these two approaches on this knicker.

The result? Not that successful! Perhaps I should be taking larger seam allowances at the side seams, but without stretching the elastic, these knickers are far too loose on me. They're not falling down, but nor are they clinging properly to my body! I think that stretching more over the bum is a good idea, and my handling of the elastic was improved yet again - the stretch was distributed nicely and evenly. But I believe that you do need to stretch the elastic when sewing it in. 

A big difference between the knickers: the ones which I sewed the elastic in flat are 2" larger!
Think about it: you're using stretch fabric, so you can pull the garment up and over your body, no fastenings needed. But it needs to stay on! The elastic both seals the fabric up, preventing it from stretching out; and holds the garment up! Negative ease is necessary.

Conclusion: advice for knicker sewing beginners 
  • Work out how to sandwich and flip the gusset so that you end up with two neat, completely enclosed seams.
  • Try on the knickers quickly before sewing in the elastic, to check if they are too loose or fit fine. This varies greatly with the fabric that you're using.
  • Sewing in the elastic does take practice. Your first pairs of knickers will inevitably have sections where you've pulled too tight or too loose. Don't give up!
  • Try to stretch the elastic more over the back leg holes, and 'just enough' over the front leg holes.
  • Lastly, don't forget to stretch a little around the waist - that's what's holding the knickers up!

The white knickers make a set with my first bra! But that's a subject for another post...

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Sewing routines and regular life

I've been reading about people's routines recently, and how they fit time for making into their daily lives. It's amazing how varied people's suggestions are! Tilly Walnes advocates sewing for 15 minutes every morning, before you start the rest of your day. Rachel Pinheiro says that she does everything in bulk: prepping patterns, cutting out, and sewing several different garments at once. Katie mentions that she puts everything away entirely between sewing sessions.

Something that really stuck with me recently was reading an Instagram comment, where a sewist said something along the lines of: I'm going try to stop checking my phone so much and spend that time sewing! It's so easy to be distracted, especially when the Internet is full of a never-ending stream of beautiful projects that inspire you onto your next project. Of course, unfortunately, I seem to spend a lot more time admiring and planning than actually working on projects! I've currently got quite a big backlog of things that I want to make, and time is as usual running out.

What I've always struggled with is wanting to do too many things at once, and not having a routine. I've tried getting up at 8am every day, but it just doesn't work for me because I don't have a set bedtime. Sometimes I get home from uni or work at 6.30pm, sometimes at 11pm. I'm a night owl by nature, but doing careful sewing in artificial light isn't great.

Commuting routines have always been successful for me. Recently it's been raining so I've been taking public transport, which has given me much more time for knitting. Sewing has relied more on bursts of inspiration; but I think that if I try to stop myself mindlessly scrolling, I might be able to make some progress on my huge project pile.

Do you have a regular time set aside for hobbies, or do you make when inspiration strikes?

Friday, 13 November 2015

Penitentiary Pyjamas

My latest make…Penitentiary Pyjamas!

Although there is a Lightnin' Hopkins song called Penitentiary Blues, I keep getting the much catchier tune of the St James Infirmary blues in my head instead whenever I think about these Penitentiary Pyjamas. 

Are you listening to it? Great! 

I'm so excited to share this project with you. Recently, I was browsing in one of my favourite fabric shops for lining fabric, when I instead came across this lovely black and white striped knit. I knew straight away that I'd like to make another Hemlock T-shirt with it, so it came home with me. The fabric is ponte di Roma, which I'd never used before. 

This time I just used the Hemlock pattern straight up, as it's offered online - no fiddling around with length. The fabric was great to work with - really easy to cut and sew, hardly creases, and doesn't even really need finishing. I overlocked the T-shirt together in a flash, then added a contrast pocket for fun. I'd wanted to cut the neckband the other way (to have fun vertical stripes going around the neckline), however ponte di roma is a fabric which only has a little horizontal stretch and no vertical stretch at all, so this wasn't feasible. 

The sleeves again ended up a bit of a weird length for me. I overlocked bands onto the edge, as I prefer this finishing method for knits; but still the bracelet length sleeve is slightly impractical for this boxy, oversized sweater. I tried it on and had a brainwave: it wanted to be pyjamas!

The next day I dug out the pattern that I'd previously devised for leggings. I then traced around a pair of my favourite pair of old leggings, and amalgamated the two different patterns. I did lots of measuring, added ease, and then did the sensible thing of cutting the leggings out with 1" seam allowance all around. (I should really have done this before, to avoid leggings-gate.) To my surprise, they seemed to fit! I added more ease to accommodate my muscular calves, and took them in more around the hips to avoid the saggy crutch look. Then, I overlocked them together.

The leggings are still a little tight around the calves, which makes them ride up at the ankles and knees as you can see. But overall, this is my most successful pair of leggings yet! Fine-tuning the pattern along the contours of the leg will help achieve a better fit, but I'm really happy to finally have a better starting-point for those tricky knits with no vertical stretch. 

I've slept in them all week and they're very cosy and snuggly. Although I normally tend to try to avoid more synthetic fabrics (this ponte de Roma is a viscose and polyester blend), the fabric is quite soft and it's insulating without getting too hot. 

 I may make another pair with more ease, as looser pyjamas are more comfortable. And my boy-friend came home from work to find me in this jailbird look and requested the same for himself! So this won't be the last you see of what's surely the ultimate in stripes.

Project details:
Penitentiary Pyjamas
Pattern: Grainline Studio's Hemlock T-shirt // My own leggings pattern
Notes: Be aware of the sleeve length!
Fabric: 2.5m stripe ponte di Roma, viscose/polyester blend, from Classic Textiles, Goldhawk Road
Cost: £12 for the fabric; threads and patterns in my stash!

Monday, 2 November 2015

Azuma bukuro - linen lunch bags

After I finished making my Japanese trousers, I had a few sizeable scrap pieces leftover. I loved the textural linen - slubby and coarse-woven, so that the plain weaving forms the texture. I thought that the pieces would be lovely for some kind of home ware.  Following from my analysis of my textile purchases last year, I know that I should try to make more everyday items such as tea towels. This cloth would have been perfect for that purpose - but unfortunately my leftovers were too narrow. I didn't want to make napkins (boring!) or an apron, so I was a little stumped for what to do as I equally didn't want the cloth to get sucked into my stash. Then I discovered the blog Fringe Association; and more specifically, their sister site Fringe Supply Co's product 'bento bags'. I was smitten!

These gorgeous little textiles are more commonly known as 'azuma bukuro', but I loved the product name 'bento bag' - a textile to stash all your snacks in so that they don't get lost in your backpack; and which folds up very small.

There are several tutorials available online; three methods are reviewed here. After some consideration I chose to follow the simplest method available which uses only two seams. I used the tutorial on Coco Stitch; and there's a clearer diagram available here.  The bag is formed by cutting a long rectangle, hemming it, and folding it into thirds. 

I love how the flat, geometric bag is immediately transformed into vessel and a form, just by placing an object inside. The tied bag has a pleasing quality to it; a bundle of snacks.

I made my first bag very simply, to try out the method. I immediately fell in love with this textile and had to make another from my remaining linen scrap. This time, I added a piece of interfacing into the centre third; and lined it. I bagged out the rectangle with a piece of lovely quilting cotton (leftover from my quilt) and topstitched the seam before sewing it together. This made it sturdier, so you can carry more food in it.

The fabrics look great together; and I was so thrilled by the simplicity of this useful everyday project. I forced everybody that I met the next day to admire my lunch bag (sorry!). 

I'm now excited at the other possibilities that this wrapped textile project can offer. It's a seriously good way to use up leftover scraps that are an otherwise awkward size. There are only so many zip pouches that one can make and give; but this bag has a sense of novelty and fun. I think that it would be a great alternative, eco-friendly approach to wrapping for that big celebration of food and gift-giving that's coming up soon…

Project details
Project details:
Azuma bukuro / Bento bags
Pattern: This tutorial by Coco Stitch. 
Modifications: Interface the central square; bag out to line. 
Fabric: leftovers from trousers and quilt
Cost: £0

Sunday, 1 November 2015

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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Japanese trousers

Hello! How is everyone enjoying October?
This month has gone by in a veritable whirlwind, with typically unpredictable British weather to boot. Torrential rain one moment, freezing cold evenings or bursts of bright sun the next, it's been best characterised by a rather flat grey light throughout. I've been too busy to go out into my garden for the past two months, and it's a jungle out there still! The jasmine and nasturtiums have gone mad; the fruit bushes have withered away; but I was surprised to see clusters of calendula and poppies still going strong so late into the year.

During a quiet moment this week, I finally managed to sew up these trousers, made from linen that's been hanging around since April. This is my second attempt at sewing a variation of the 'Z Trousers' from Stylish Dress Book: Clothing for Everyday Wear by Yoshiko Tsukiori. Alterations were adding a fly front, pockets, waistband and darts to what were essentially linen jogging bottoms.

I'd intended my first version (project link - to my old blog) to be cycle-friendly trousers. This was because at that point, all the trousers I owned were 1940s-style wide-legged ones, which weren't great on the bike. Sadly though, the cute details I'd included like the ankle vents and loose ankle cuffs turned out to be very cycle-unfriendly: my pedals frequently got caught in them. Also, linen isn't actually that great for cycling in the heat. Though extremely absorbent, it has no moisture-wicking properties so I often found myself dismounting with trousers that were still holding onto perspiration!

Other faults were the side-entry pockets, which frequently bagged out unattractively; and my failing to use interfacing at stress points. I was happy to be able to correct all this with the second pair: adding interfacing in the ankle cuffs, waistband and fly; and changing to sloping pockets cut into the waistband, with the pocket bags extending into the waist to hold them in place. Basically, treating the trousers more like tailored trousers despite the casual feel that they have.

Despite all these faults, my first pair of Z trousers were a firm favourite over the summer, and in fact became my go-to trousers to wear. They've actually become quite faded and worn, although the linen has reacted well to frequent washing, becoming extremely soft. I was pleased to finally be able to make a second pair, correcting some of my poor decision-making from the first pair. I like how the cut is practical but a  little bit quirky: I don't really see other women wearing this sort of thing. 

I thought that I was going to have difficulty in choosing a button, but in the end simplicity sufficed. A plain black fly button was all that was needed. The contrast in the horizontal bands is also pleasing.

I finished the insides beautifully: matching pocket and fly linings, a little overlocking where needed, and French seams everywhere else. I love French seams, they're definitely my go-to choice for a seam for the strength and neatness in one. It only works after you're confident in the fit, though.

The insides are completed by a seamstress-worthy hanging loop in a deliciously contrasting yellow.

My fly piece should really be narrower, but it's not the end of the world. I used this tutorial from Grainline Studios, which does one step in a slightly different order than I'm accustomed to. It's a good method. 

This pair of trousers is still somewhat imperfect. I added darts instead of gathers, and I think that the trouser front looks good; but there's something to be desired about the dart placement over the bum. My pattern placement is also not quite 100% there; but in person, the stripes are somewhat of an optical illusion, so I don't really mind.

It'd great to add another pair of comfortable linen trousers into the rotation, so that I can give the first pair a bit of a break! Until it gets really cold, these are fine to wear in the autumnal weather with a thin pair of thermal leggings layered underneath. 

Project details:
Japanese trousers
Modifications: Raising the rise; adding waist darts, pockets and a fly front
Fabric: stripe cotton/linen blend from Fabric House, Goldhawk Road
Cost: less than £10 for the striped fabric, everything else from my stash. 

What's your go-to pattern for loungewear that's worthy of leaving the house in?