Friday 31 July 2015

My first dress

This is my first attempt at buying and working with a commercial pattern:

This is Butterick #4443, view E (without the ribbon).

The material is a red cotton poplin that I got from Dunelm in Bristol. I think it's meant to be a cushion fabric. I picked this one out of my then-modest fabric stash because, bluntly, I was sure I was going to screw up and plain red cotton seemed like the easiest material to replace. I bought a piece of red lining fabric from John Lewis to match.

There were simpler things I could have picked for a first dress. The skirt part was simple enough, but the bodice is princess-seamed and fully lined. I found out that "princess seams" were a thing literally the day before I started writing this post. I just sewed it together and assumed it would work. Also I had no idea what understitching was, and looked it up basically to see if I could skip it (I decided I couldn't, and now I know how to understitch!)

I made the dress WAY too big and I didn't realise until I'd put the lining in, so the seams have been taken in quite a bit on the inside. The main thing wrong with this dress is the shoulder seams - I didn't understand what the instructions were getting at, so I just stitched them together and there's a quite obvious seam. It's also puckered in a few places and I didn't bother staystitching the neckline (I didn't know what that was), so the V-neck is not as... V-neckish as it could be. Though I decided I actually quite like that.

Me? Silly? How dare you. 

I really like this pattern. It suits me and it was easy enough for my rank beginner self to do with only minimal help from Youtube. I am pleased. Pleased enough that (spoiler) you'll be seeing this pattern again. And possibly again. 

Thursday 30 July 2015

cherry swirl

My second ever item of clothing, same as the first. 

I decided to have another go at the same thing, but in an easier fabric. This is a cherry print lightweight cotton, which I got from Sew Over It. 

Note, if you please, my excellent use of the "pretend to be inspecting an apple tree" style of modelling.

This is a much better skirt, and I wear it fairly regularly. I made it a size smaller so it fits a lot better, I got the zip in on the second try, and the hem is about four million times better (I mean, I'm sure there are things about it that would make a perfectionist weep with despair, but it's all flat and not too obviously wonky and stuff).

Plus it's even better at doing this:

I thank you.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

My first skirt

Hello and welcome to my first ever "completed garment" post, otherwise known as the Jen's Awkward Modelling Shots series.

To start us off, here we have the first thing I ever made*:

*technically I made a dress before this, but since the instructor did about 70% of the work, I choose not to count that one.

It's a full circle skirt made out of quite a thick stretch cotton, and I made it in Sew Over It's Intro to dressmaking class.

This was, ahem, a challenging first project. I picked the material because it was Dairy Milk purple and I wasn't going to be using anything else when there was Dairy Milk purple right there. But it wasn't the easiest to work with, especially for a rank beginner. It didn't want to fold, it didn't want to press, and it really didn't want to have a zip sewn into it. It took me about 11 hours, five of which I spent trying to get the stupid zip in. The stitching is all over the place round the zip and the hem (it's a really, really, really bad hem) and it sits a lot lower on my waist than it should because we all made our skirts too big for some reason, and in the Land of Slapdash we do not have time to completely take a finished garment apart just to alter the fit slightly.

I haven't worn this yet, but despite its obvious amateurishness I may wear it in the autumn. Because imperfections aside, it's a massive Dairy Milk purple skirt.

Also, it does this:

and I just can't be mad at a piece of clothing which does that.

Fabric shopping!

After finally negotiating my slightly complicated laptop setup (actual laptop has been dying a slow lingering death for several years, I use a Chromebook for internet browsing but obviously can't upload photos through it, so every so often I schedule a fight with the dying one to get some pictures online), I have some photos to show, meaning this might actually start to feel like a proper sewing blog. First up, fabricness! I'm hoping that if I post about my fabric, it'll give me some incentive to use it. This is my haul from Fabric Land in Bristol, on my last trip home to visit my parents.

I'd never seen this before - they had a bunch of cottons with shirring already inserted, so all you need to do to make a garment is sew one seam straight up the back. My lazy self is looking forward to making the easiest maxi dress ever.

This is a purple and white cotton lawn, which I bought largely because it was called "Dark Raspberry Ice". Cotton lawn is incredibly versatile, but I'm still not sure what I want to do with this. It's quite a special print, but I'd rather make something I can actually wear rather than yet another occasion dress without an occasion.

This is a really nice lightweight burgundy jersey without too much stretch in it, and I thought it'd be a good fabric for my first attempt at a knit dress. Coming your way soon (I hope).

This is not a great photo of some really lovely pink, blue and gold butterfly-print lacquered cotton. Again, I'm not really sure what I'm going to do with this. I've started making a basic little tote bag from some of it, but I'd quite like to make some kind of clothing since it's so pretty. Can you make clothes from lacquered cotton? What works?

I'm not allowed to buy any more fabric until I've got some room in my cupboard, so next time I'll show you some of the stuff I haven't used yet. Exciting times, if you're a special kind of nerd.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Jersey fear

When I was looking into learning to sew, and it all seemed big and scary and impossible, I had one goal in mind: I want to make a wrap dress. I love wrap dresses, but I almost never find them in a style or material that I like. I had a vision of myself with a wardrobe full of wrap dresses, wearing wrap dresses every day, disappearing into the loos two or three times and a day and coming out in a completely different wrap dress. "I will make nothing but wrap dresses," I told everyone excitedly. "I will wear nothing but wrap dresses. I will sleep in wrap dresses. I will go to the gym in wrap dresses. Under my wrap dresses I will wear wrap dress underwear."

(My friends are used to me, it's fine.)

So far, I have made no wrap dresses. The thing is, wrap dresses are made in jersey. And jersey is scary.

For the last couple of months I've been reading tutorials and watching instructional videos in much the same way as I used to read the Wikipedia pages for horror films. "See, it's fine. You're reading this and everything is fine. You can handle it, you're not a wimp. It's simply a description of OH MY GOD WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT WHY WHY WHY no it's fine, it's OK, most people would be able to deal with this and you can too. Now shut down the internet and go to bed." Three hours later I'd be lying awake: "Oh God oh God oh God all the stitching just popped out and it all wrinkled up and looked terrible and I think I heard a noise and my machine doesn't even do a stretch stitch and that was definitely a shadow and a ballpoint needle is going to leap out of that dark corner and eat me..."

(I don't watch horror films.)

But I really want this wrap dress. So I paid for an online course in sewing with knits, I watched every video I could find. I ordered stretch needles and stretch twin needles for my sewing machine, ballpoint pins, a rotary cutter. A lot of videos recommended a walking foot, but a walking foot for my machine cost over £50 and I couldn't justify that. Some videos tried to tell me that sewing with jersey wasn't more difficult, it was just different, and I pre-emptively cursed them for stirring an optimism that would soon be dashed. I ordered a pattern for a jersey top. I bought a couple of jersey remnants (actually quite a lot of jersey remnants. And some non-remnants. I have a problem). And this week I'm going to try it for the first time.

I am genuinely terrified. Which is ridiculous. What kind of daft human being is terrified of making a top? It can't be that difficult to change a needle in a sewing machine, or to get stretchy fabric to go through a sewing machine. My jersey pattern looks incredibly simple to sew, and jersey doesn't fray, so in true slapdash fashion I can even skip finishing the raw edges. This should be exactly the kind of thing that works for me. A couple of seams, a sleeve insertion, some hemming, and I'm done. It'll be fine. My fabric is pre-washed. My pattern is printed. I am ready.

(Sort of.)

Here we go.

Tuesday 21 July 2015


I’m Jen, and I’m learning to sew.

Every couple of years I get hit by the need to learn something new. I’m not great at textbooks and theory, so it’s generally something practical and creative that produces tangible output (except that time when it was employment law, which made me into an actual useful human being and should therefore be treated as an aberration to be ignored). I’m a writer first and foremost, but over the past decade I’ve learned photography, law, make-up, lindy hop and blues dance, and to some extent they’ve all become part of my identity.

Until this year, the last time I touched a sewing machine was when I was thirteen in 1998. My teenage self (usually referred to as Teen Goth Jen, and you’ll be hearing from her a fair bit) liked to draw designs on the templates she got in Year 8 Textiles, but it never occurred to me to try and learn how to actually make any of it. Last year I reached a point of utter frustration with my wardrobe and everything in it, and decided that 2015 would be the Year of Sewing.

I usually walk into clothes shops with a sense of dread, especially if I actually need something. “Come on, burnt orange floral dress suitable for doing lindy hop in that I need by this weekend! Floral but not orange… orange but not floral… orange floral and apparently made out of the sound of someone squeaking a shoe across linoleum… orange, floral, nice material, I’ll try this on… hmmm. The boobs on this dress appear to end where mine start and the waist is down around my thighs somewhere. Also the waist is baggy but my arms are unable to lift up more than four inches. This can go in the 'maybe' pile.” As a result I only wore about 10% of my clothes, because I’d bought everything else based on “well, it’s not terrible”, and then never wore it because what kind of a recommendation is “not terrible”?

I took an introductory sewing weekend in January, bought a sewing machine in February, made endless cushions for three months, then went on an introductory dressmaking workshop in May. Since then, it’s possible that I’ve got slightly carried away. Sewing is AWESOME. Suddenly almost any piece of fabric is bursting, glowing with possibilities. It could be a long skirt, a short skirt, a day dress, an evening dress, a top, a jacket, a pair of shorts… Fabric shops are toy shops, shelves piled high with untold stories that could be mine. The downside to this is that cutting the fabric cuts the possibilities, so after two months of dressmaking I already have a cupboard stuffed full of fabric that I’m too frightened to use. Well done, me.

I’m starting this blog because a) it’s nice to see progress and be able to show people things, b) I’m hoping it will motivate me to actually use up some of my ridiculous fabric stash, and c) I’ve come down with a case of writer’s block, and I’m hoping that writing about this might get me writing about other things again. I am the most beginnery beginner that ever there was and the most prized traits in sewing - patience, meticulousness, neatness, caution - are ones I’m not acquainted with in the least. I like to get things finished. I will never unpick ‘good enough’ to try and turn it into ‘perfect’, and if my hem isn’t perfectly straight or my seams matched up with absolute precision, I’m not really that bothered. If you’re a perfectionist, my entire blog is going to annoy the crap out of you. I'm not trying to teach anyone, or to set an example. I'm just documenting my own learning, and hopefully being a little bit amusing in the process.

Themes you may notice:

- I started learning with Sew Over It, and I'm using a LOT of their classes and patterns right now. This isn't for any reason other than "they have a lot of nice patterns and I'm scared of change."
- I tend to work in quite long and concentrated bursts. I'm a little bit worried about attempting more complicated things because there is a very real chance that I won't eat or sleep for three days to get it finished.
- I am a serious impulse buyer and I should be stopped.
- Sometimes Teen Goth Jen takes over and I buy something completely ridiculous.
- I am not the neatest, I never will be, and I've made my peace with that.
- I like bright or dark colours and vintage shapes. I do not like pastels, ruffles, bows, or anything that buttons up the front (I hate the way it looks on me).
- I enjoy metaphors, similies, and overextending metaphors and similies.
- I like puns, but I always apologise.