Self-Stitched-September ’11: Here it comes, ready or not…

Oh my goodness I’m excited and frightened all at once about the upcoming Self-Stitched-September ’11 project, started by the fantastic Zoe of

I’ve been madly stitching myself into a frenzy, trying to amass enough clothing to see me through. This is what I’ve got so far – a mix of self-stitched and upcycled items. You might recognise a few…

Self-Stitched-September '11 - the lineup

What I’m looking forward to most about SSS’11 is the opportunity to try out lots of styles and come up with different ways to accessorise/wear the same item. At least that’s what I aim to do – the reality may just be me in the same outfit seven times! We’ll see.

This isn’t my finite wardrobe though – I’m in the middle of a pair of PJs (hopefully I can reveal them this weekend) and as soon as I get some fabric I’ll be joining Casey’s circle skirt sewalong, as well as attempting a corduroy Beignet and perhaps churning out another smock top or two (I think they’ll come in very handy during SSS’11).

What about you? Are you doing it? Have you had a panic attack at the thought yet? Let me know and we’ll hyperventilate together.

Enough worrying though – I’d better get to bed early tonight – have a 7am conference call in the office tomorrow morning – ack!

A stash-busting crafternoon

It’s been a busy bank holiday weekend for stitching and there’s been an awful lot of wittering going on as well. I invited my good friend and crafty blogger Tanya of Strikk hand knits over for a mini crafternoon of knitting and stitching yesterday. The plan was to gossip, cackle and get some projects out. And we did… before chicken stew and an evening in the best local in the world – The Famous Royal Oak in Muswell Hill. But not before refreshments were served…

Cherries and cava

Cherries and cava – awesome combination.

A blur of knitting activity

Stitching and wittering

Tanya creates the most beautiful knitted items; cushion covers, hot water bottle covers… all sorts. Yesterday she was stash busting her yarn and making some gorgeous little baby blankets for her shop. Gorgeous colours, and the cats fancied a bit too…

Nom nom wool

A blur of activity

I tried to take a picture of Tanya knitting but her hands move so fast it ends up being a bit of a blur!

I’ve been doing a bit of fabric stash busting too. Remember this polka dot top from Zara?

Zara polka dot top

I bought it a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been wearing it to death. I loved the shape of it so much I was determined to recreate it. So during the week I got my greaseproof paper and my pencil out and traced (as best I could) each section to create a pattern. I ended up with this:

Polka dot top pattern piecesThe original top has a zipper at the back but I can pull it on and off without opening it so I figured that I could leave that bit out. I made a wearable muslin to begin with, with some fabric I bought in Walthamstow market years ago. I think I bought about five metres at the time because it was so cheap! I’m amazed to have got to the end of it.

Smock top in green

Once I made it I realised it needed to be reduced by about an inch at the front and back so I just stitched a seam at the centre front and back and pressed it in. Still looked ok! I’m hiding the front seam under a corsage in this pic.

Smock top in polka dot

I amended the pattern to reduce the width and evened out the neckline a bit for the next version – another polka-dot! But this time it’s black. I’m having some issues trying to gather/ruche it at the top – need to work on that…

Am really pleased with this pattern though – I could remake it again and again and it’s going to come in very handy for Self Stitched September. I think I’ll use my jumping bunnies fabric from for the next version.

Jumping rabbits

In other news my little baby Gracie hasn’t been feeling well. She was sick on Thursday night and not herself at all on Friday. She’s usually so chatty (I know – cats can’t really talk but this one witters all day – I just can’t understand what she’s saying) but she was so quiet and just lying very still, it broke our hearts to see her like that. So we took her to the vet on Saturday where she had a thermometer put up her bottom. She had a bit of a temperature so the vet has given her an antibiotic and we’re to feed her just cooked chicken once a day until she’s better. Keef isn’t too happy about the lack of biscuits in his bowl but he’s putting up with it for his sister’s sake. Here’s the patient having a wee lie down. Awh!

Gracie in bedShe’s starting to witter again and hopefully it won’t be long before she’s back to full strength. Got me thinking though about how much we depend on our pets. I really don’t know what I’d do if something happened to either Keef or Gracie, and I know that a lot of people will think that’s slightly hysterical and out of perspective but they really are part of our little family. Anyway… I’ll stop now before I start sobbing over my laptop! Have a fabulous bank holiday everyone! xxx

Completed project: The Zen-im Beignet Skirt

I love Colette Patterns. I love how they come so beautifully presented (you can tell Sarai was a usability expert in a previous incarnation). I love the website and its simple and intuitive guides and quick tips. I love the sweet little notebook of directions the patterns come with. They truly are little works of art in their own right. And they make me feel extremely calm and a just a little bit zen. So, I am delighted to say that I have finished my very first Colette Beignet and while it’s not perfect by any means, I am thoroughly chuffed with it. Here it is… the
‘Zen-im Beignet’ (a bit creased from sitting down all day though):

Zenim Beignet

I wanted to approach this project as calmly and methodically as I could, for there to be no silly mistakes and no raging tantrums. And guess what – there weren’t! I carefully traced all the pattern pieces onto Swiss tracing paper/material. That took a whole evening but was so worth it as I now have a virtually rip-proof (read: cat proof) version of the pattern in my size.

Zenim Beignet

Another evening was spent cutting out all the pieces – so many pieces! I was quite bedazzled by it all. But I was being zen, remember? So I took it in my stride.

A third evening (or was it Saturday morning at this stage?) was spent preparing the lining and facing and joining the two. And I finally managed to put the whole thing together on Monday night, with just a few adjustments to make on Tuesday.

In all, it was a really lovely project to do and I’m so pleased with the result. I love the little pockets and the neatness of the facing/lining combo inside – what a lovely stylish touch on the part of Colette patterns.

Lining/facing combo

In terms of slip ups or issues – there weren’t many although I could NOT for the life of me understand the concept of understitching the facing. I read through the notes on the pattern twenty times, I looked it up and found a fantastic tute on the Colette patterns website. Nada. I just couldn’t translate what I was seeing on the tute to my skirt, so I decided not to risk it. I also tried and failed to turn my denim belt loops the right side out using the needle method. Oh god – what a horrible little task – I gave up after a while. I’ll attempt it at some point in the future.

Fit wise – it was a little bulky round the waist and hips so I just repositioned the buttons to pull it in a little. I see myself wearing this skirt a lot and I can’t wait to make another version. Yay the Zen-im Beignet!

Disclaimer: Frizzy hair day and v. tired from work – sorry for fairly lacklustre appearance!

Watch out fabrics – I have my beady eye on you, and you…

I know – I’ve not been wittering much for the last few days, but that’s not because I haven’t been stitching. In fact, I’m very excited to say I’m almost finished my Colette Beignet and fingers crossed (or hold thumbs as my South African friend puts it) I’ll be able to show you it later this week! In the meantime, here’s what I’m lusting after (fabric-wise), come pay day. Oh dear God hurry up pay day please…

I’ve promised the nephew a pair of jazzy pyjama bottoms. He’s obsessed with pirates so I’ve found this fabulous skull and cross bones fabric online for a bargain 3.50/metre. The husband has put in a personal request for pyjama bottoms of his own – so maybe we’ll see a spot of male modelling here next month!

Skulls and cross bones

I’ve been looking for a suitable fabric to make my McCall’s M2401 dress. Thinking it will be an Autumn outfit so a rich floral might be nice. Or maybe I revert to type and go for polka dot – again!
Look at this gorgeous floral cotton from Fabric Tales:

Fabric Tales floral
and this lovely jade green polka dot is just £2.99 a metre – could be a great wearable muslin…

Jade polka-dot

Or let’s just blow the budget shall we? Look at this stunning cotton from Liberty – part of their Liberty Rocks range. Graham Coxon designed it. He’s one of my favourite musicians (Bittersweet Bundle of Misery was the first dance at the wedding) and this is really lovely:

Graham Coxon for Liberty Rocks
I’m getting so excited about finishing my Beignet that I’m already planning another one. I’ve been inspired by Tilly’s gorgeous Banana Sweetie Skirt and would love to do a corduroy version of my own. Maybe a lovely teal with a hot pink satin lining and covered buttons.
Teal Corduroy
One thing’s for sure. I have a LOT of sewing to get through if I have anywhere near enough items for Self-Stitched-September. I’d better get cracking!

Frankenstein polka dot – the sequel

Hello sewing peeps, and how are you on this marvellous drizzly evening (in London at least)? At the moment it feels like summer is never going to come back but that’s not going to stop me from hoping. I’m an optimistic sort of person (some might say stubborn) which is probably why I came home from work tonight, rolled up my sleeves and gave the Frankenstein polka dot what for. I was determined to get a collar and some sleeves on that monster. But you know what? It bit back.

Sleeve tragedy

Yes, you’re wondering “Is that sleeve seam on the wrong side…or…?” I’m ashamed to say it is. Warning: This is what happens when you have little or no experience of sewing from scratch and are too impatient to check you’re doing it correctly. I’m sure this has never happened to any of you, but if you have a similar story to share then  it might make me feel better!

Not to be deterred, I ripped that unfortunate sleeve off and started again. I’ve also ripped off the old collar and tried a new shape round the neck. But I’m still not feeling it…

Frankenstein - the sequel

…and look at the state of it from behind. Eurgh. Run children! Run for your lives from the Frankenstein polka dot!

Frankenstein - the back view

I can tell this project will just run and run. In the meantime – let’s try something new – like the gorgeous Colette Beignet. I’m making a wearable muslin using a lovely light blue denim shell and a flowery cotton lining picked up from Walthamstow Mkt a couple of weeks ago. I’ve traced the pattern onto some of that Swedish tracing paper that acts like material – ooh I love it. I’ve used almost all of it though and it’s quite expensive. I’ll cut out the pieces tonight after the husband serves up his chicken fajitas – he’s already told me to vacate the dining table sharpish…

Colette Beignet materials

Finally, my (almost) 12 year old niece Hannah has been hinting that she’d like a hand-made gift for her birthday coming up soon, so I’ve knocked her up a log cabin patchwork cushion. It’s my first patchwork cushion as well as my first cushion using a zip rather than an envelope opening so  bit of a learning curve.

Hannah's patchwork cushion
She also quite fancied the idea of having it featured on t’internet so Hannah, my darling first born niece – this is for you. xxx

Completed project: Slouchy autumn berries dress

Here we are. It was a bit weird putting tights on, on such a lovely day. But in the interests of complete transparency (which this blog is all  about ) I dutifully got the opaques out and the husband inside and got to work. So here’s the Slouchy Autumn Berries Dress (pattern is HP 1090) – on a real live  person.

Slouchy autumn berries dress

Slouchy autumn berries dress
Truth be told I was a bit worried about this dress. I wasn’t sure it was really me – I was concerned it might look too staid and a bit yummy mummy. But I think as long as I give it a bit of attitooood then I might be alright!

Slouchy autumn berries dress
Next up – I’m going to finish the Frankenstein Polkadot this week if it kills me  and then I’m going to cut out for my first Colette Beignet. I’m extremely excited about this skirt! Does anyone know of a good sewalong for the Beignet? I’ve been googling but haven’t found one. I’ve also ordered the Rooibos Dress  pattern from Colette Patterns – hooray! I think I’ll be too late to do the sewalong but it will all be there for great reference once I’m ready. Plus I can be  a bit of a cheat and watch everyone else before I select my fabric – it’s a win-win!

Work in progress: Slouchy autumn berries dress

Disclaimer: There are no berries on this dress. But there’s a repetitious spot sort of pattern, which if you squint your eyes looks a bit like fallen berries. And autumn is beckoning, and knits are great for autumn. So… um… there we are!

Slouchy autumn berries dress

Compared with the Whale of a Time Blouse and the Frankenstein Polkadot, this pattern is a walk in the park… but not without its own particular difficulties. I’m working with a knit for the first time so that’s a bit of a stress, plus it’s a slippery fine sort of knit which has a tendency to slide around when I’m lining up raw edges and pinning… grrr.

I’ve been experimenting with different stitches on this dress. Most experts seem to recommend a serger (or overlocker) for working with knits (as a stretchy fabric needs a stretchy seam), which I don’t have. So part of the dress (the raglan sleeves and the neckline) is sewn together with a straight stitch and by stretching the fabric on either side of the needle. The other part (the waist and what will be the ribbed hem) is sewn with a zigzag and no stretching of the fabric. Both seem to provide the stretchy seams but I think I prefer the zigzag. It feels sturdier and looks neater on the underside, plus I feel like I have more control over the material.

Raglan sleeve with ribbed cuff

I had to unpick the waist and do it again as I made a bit of a hash of it first time, sewing the bodice and the skirt together and then adding the elastic which seemed to mess it up and give me two lines of stitches. After watching one of the rather fabulous and tremendously helpful videos on the Hot Patterns website, I decided to follow their tip of sewing both in one go. A massive improvement and much neater on the inside as well as outside.

Elasticated waist

Neckline and raglan sleeve

I’m slightly worried it looks a bit mumsy on the dress form, but perhaps once I add the hem and team it with coloured tights and ankle boots it’ll rough it up a bit. Excuse the rather old and crusty belt on there – just wanted to see how it looked!

Dress with belt

What I like most about this fabric is that it’s very forgiving. There are a few mistakes around the neckline but I decided to leave them in rather than redo them as it’s fairly hard to notice them without really close inspection. I reckon I could definitely use the bodice and sleeves pattern pieces to make more casual tops too. Yay. Although let’s not get too excited. We have yet to try it on properly!

Zara – what happened to you girl?

You know how there are some shops that you can always rely on to have something you’ll like. TopShop, Oasis and Warehouse are my personal high street faves. I always know I can pick up a little top or dress with a quick scoot around in my lunch hour (not that I do much scooting anymore – I’m more likely to be rooting through the pattern books in John Lewis).

Similarly there are a few high street shops I fall in and out of love with: Dorothy Perkins (Dotty P’s) goes through stages of having the most adorable little shift dresses and tunics at bargain prices, a trip to Mango can occasionally unearth a jewel-bright cardy or a leopard print and my mum buys underwear sets for me from ‘Primarche’ like there’s a national shortage of undercrackers.

But Zara? No, never. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been in there and walked out again within 30 seconds because all I can see are rows of fusty pussy-bow blouses (that no decent girl would wear without a vest) and chinos. It’s never really been my thing… until now.

On a quick hoof to the afore-mentioned craft emporium that is John Lewis haberdashery today, I was yanked back by this rather fetching (and totally bang-on trend) polkadot top in the window.

Green polka dot top

Isn’t it lush? I love that shade of green and I am a sucker for polkadots. So much so I covered my wedding dress in ‘em. So I popped in and lo and behold I was presented with a dazzing array of  treasures from their Autumn/Winter collection. Check this silky slinkmeister out:

A slinky red polka dot shirt

And isn’t this adorable?

Puppy perfect with a peter pan collar

And this?
Pretty polka dot dress

I think what’s attracting me to these pieces are their simplicity, and my imagination is running away with me on how I could recreate them at home with (a lot) of practice. I did buy the green polka dot and I’ve had a good look inside at the seams and facing. I think it’s very doable indeed, and could even be extended into a pretty dress like the one above.

It’s amazing – once you have a successful dressmaking project under your belt – you start to see the potential in everything! Have you felt that rush of excitement and adrenaline after finishing a piece that you love?

Tutorial #3: A superior posterior pad

It’s been a difficult week to get much sewing done here in London. I’ll not go into the details, I think the excellent blogs already out there from Tilly and Karen, plus the news coverage pretty much sums it up. I haven’t a) quite been able to pull myself away from BBC News and b) felt much like it. But last night and tonight, things have been quieter. So I thought I’d put together my tutorial for making a bespoke seat pad with piping.

A superior posterior pad

A while ago I wrote a blog about finding some old and unloved chairs on the street. I confess – I am a total skip-dipper. I can’t pass one without having a nosey. I sanded down and painted the chairs about a month ago and what better way to set off their fresh new look than a bonny new seat pad! I asked you guys what fabric I should plump for and you picked the rather fabulous vintage (60s? 70s?) pink curtain that I picked up in Bethnal Green at a Vintage Fair last year.

Which fabric goes best?

Okay – here’s what you’ll need.


Foam pad – enough to cover the area you want

Fabric – I use hard wearing cotton or linen, old curtains, etc. How much you need depends on your seat pad width and length, whether you’re using the same fabric to cover your piping, whether you want seat ties etc… but half a metre or so should cover it. You’ll need:

1. Three pieces sized roughly the same as your foam pad (the trimmed size – see below)

2. Two matching strips roughly 1.5″ x 16″ for your seat ties and one strip roughly 1.25″ x the circumference of your seat pad for your piping (or you can use a contrasting piping for more of a funky look).

Notions: Matching thread and enough piping to go round your seat pad – a metre should cover it.

Nice to have:

Electric carving knife. Yep – that’s right! Seriously – cutting foam is no joke. Scissors  and stanley knives are tough-going and make the edges ragged. Get yourself one of these beauties and you’ll be the home furnishings equivalent of Edward Scissorhands. I got mine for less than £10 on Amazon and use them solely for this but bet if you ask your mum she’ll have one knocking about.  Alternatively you can get ready-made foam pads for seats but I find that one size rarely fits all.

Piping foot: I suppose this could theoretically be a ‘nice to have’  as you can use a zipper foot but I wouldn’t like to attempt piping without mine – it removes all pain and frustration and makes your world a happy, happy place.

Let’s get started

First thing is to get a sheet of newspaper, tracing paper or pattern paper and lay it on your chair. Mark out the general shape of your pad, trying to make it as symmetrical and even as possible . Cut out and lay the paper on top of your foam pad, trace an outline with a marker pen or chalk – and cut! So here’s the finished foam insert. Like so.

Finished foam insert

At this point take your piping and wrap it round the circumference. This measurement, plus a couple of inches will be how much piping you need, and the length of the 1.25″ fabric strip I mentioned above. If you’re short on fabric length then just sew a couple of strips together at the ends until you get the desired length. The joins really won’t stand out on the finished fabric, I promise.

Measuring piping

A word about seam allowances here. I don’t add extra seam allowance to the fabric pieces, because every time I have, they’ve ended up a bit loose and wrinkly. And what I really want is a tight, professional looking finish. So I cut the fabric without seam allowances, but sew with a seam allowance of about 3/8″, meaning the cushion cover is ever so slightly smaller than the foam. Then I just  stuff the foam in and sit on it until the foam flattens and it looks fabulous. But that’s just me.

So anyway, take your paper pattern and cut out three pieces from your fabric. Cut three because one will be your top and the other two will form an overlapping envelope opening on the bottom side. If you’re using a patterned fabric it’s nice to ensure all patterns face the same way but to be honest you can get away without worrying about this too, because it’s on the bottom anyway.

Take your two pieces that will form the envelope opening, and place them side by side. Piece one is on the left and piece two is on the right. Now trim about a quarter of the material away from the right hand side of piece one and do the same on the left hand side of piece two. Does that make sense? Here’s a pic.

Creating envelope fabric pieces

Now you’ll want to finish your three fabric pieces with a zig zag stitch about a 1/4″ in, all around the edges, to prevent fraying. If your material is heavily woven then I’ve heard pinking shears will do the same job. Don’t worry about the strips for piping and straps – they’ll be fine without it.

Again taking your two bottom pieces of fabric, press 1″ under  on those sides that you trimmed and sew a straight line about 0.75″ in from the edge to secure. This will give you a nice finish on your envelope opening. See?

Finished edges

Now let’s make the piping. Tuck your piping cord into the middle of the 1.25″ strip (right side on the outside). Using your piping foot on your sewing machine, stitch as close as you can to the piping itself. As I said above I use a piping foot for this (which tucks the cord underneath part of the foot) but you can use your zipper foot as well. Sew all the way along the cord. You should hopefully have a little border of material right the way along which is 3/8″ – the same seam allowance as we’ll be using on our seat pad. So that’s your piping done!

Sewing the piping

If you’d like to use chair ties (those little ties that secure your seat pad to the chair spindles) then let’s make them now. Take your two shorter strips and press them in half lengthways. Then on each side of your pressing line, press in half again lengthways. Basically you’re making bias binding.  Then sew a straight line of stitching down one edge to secure. You could do both edges and the ends if you like but life is short and time is money and noone will EVER look at this and judge you. Really. Here it is in pic format:

Making the seat pad ties

OK now we are ready to put the thing together! Lay your piece of fabric (that will be the top of the seat pad) right side up. Arrange your piping around the edges with the piping cord on the inside and raw sides together. Round the corners it’s worth making snips in the seam allowance of your piping every couple of centimetres or so – just makes curving it so much easier.You’ll find that you have an overlap of piping, right? Here’s what to do. To join your piping and make it all nice and neat, unpick some of the stitching (about half an inch or so) on one side of the piping and open up the fabric casing. Take the other length of piping and trim it so it joins your first bit of piping inside the opened fabric case. Then just tuck your opened fabric casing around the piping again and turn the end under so there are no raw edges. Voila.

Joining the piping

Now fold your little strips in two and lay them on top of the piping, equidistant from each side, making sure the open ends are facing inwards into the cushion.

Pinning ties in place

Now take your two ‘envelope opening’ pieces of fabric and lay one on top of the left hand side and one on the right hand side with the fabric facing the wrong side up. They should overlap by a couple of inches. Now pin all your pieces together, making sure you’re securing your ties at the back with your pins.

All pieces pinned together

Again, using your piping or zipper foot, sew all around the edges with your needle as close to the piping as you can possibly get, feeling your way along through the fabric.

Now turn it out – see?

Seat pad right side out

It’s all magically come together! Stuff your foam insert in. It will feel tight and seem like it’s never going to fit and you will curse me, but pummel it, punch it and squeeze it until it fits. Then check out your fine work by plopping your posterior on your superior seat pad and having a In just a few hours of use the foam will have worked its way into every corner and evened out, giving you a lovely smooth finish!

Finished seat pad

Finished seat pad ties
If you do decide to make this, then let me know how it goes and whether I’ve missed anything vitally important! I basically wrote the tutorial then followed my own instructions so I hope it makes sense. Happy sewing and sitting xxx

Finished project: A whale of a time blouse

Last week I purchased a charming vintage Simplicity pattern on eBay and I’ve been dying to try it out ever since. I was also looking forward to using my rippled whales in pink fabric that I bought from Fabric Tales about a month ago. I thought a blouse as sweet as this deserved a fun fabric, so it got one.

Simplicity pattern 3558

The pattern wasn’t a difficult one per se, but as a beginner in all things dressmaking it was a steep learning curve. I set in sleeves for the first time and learned how to do buttonholes! Can you believe I have had a sewing machine for at least seven years and haven’t ever used the buttonhole foot? What fun it was! I’m going to put buttons on everything now. Cushions will be transformed! Bags will be secure!

I did have some trouble figuring out the pattern instructions for the front  of the blouse. A narrow piece had been removed from the original pattern so I wasn’t sure if I needed to cut out the blouse front including  it or whether that was just for interfacing. In the end I left it as was and it seemed to work out ok. Here it is!

A whale of a time blouse

I think you can see from the pic that my peter pan collar ended up ever so slightly uneven, but it’s more pronounced here than  it is in reality, so I’m going to live with it. Also you can see that one side of the blouse is out of line with the other side in terms of the whale pattern. Again, I’ll live with it – I’m just so pleased to make something I like and would willingly wear! When it came to fitting, my new mini-me came in tremendously useful. So much better than sticking pins in one’s derriere by mistake. I had to take in the seam lines by a half inch through the arms and the sides.

I think this blouse will go beautifully with a pale blue denim I bought from Walthamstow market. It’s very ‘seventies mum’ and will be perfect for another new project – the Colette Patterns Beignet Skirt.

Keef came in for a snoop while we were taking pics so I let him join in.

Keef gets a pet

I’d definitely use this pattern again but I’ll have to remember to snip a half inch off everything. I’d love to add piping to the collar for an even more retro feel. The pattern also came with these gorgeous letter transfers (you can see them in use in View 2 on the pattern envelope). How sweet! I wonder if it’s still possible to use them? The instructions say to iron the transfer onto the fabric, and then simply embroider over them. So sweet…

Transfers that came with the pattern

In other news, I know I promised a tutorial aaaaages ago on how to make a seat pad and I promise I mean to do that this week. I’ve just been getting caught up in clothes. Dressmaking is so much more complicated and intensive – for me anyway – that it kind of drains you of energy to work on anything else! But rest assured – it’s coming soon.

Hope you’re all having lovely weekends. xxx