Making More of Your Patterns: A Desdemona Mix ‘n’ Match

The beauty of making your own clothes is that you can mix ‘n’ match to get exactly what you want to wear. A pleated Desdemona would look fabulous with a button up front, and it’s easy to swap the gathers on Version 2 for the pleats of Version 1

Using the Pleats with the Button Up Front

You might notice that the skirt shapes on both Version 1 and 2 pattern pieces are slightly different. This is to cater for the button placket down the centre front on Version 2. The easiest way to combine the two is to use the pattern pieces for Version 2 but with the pleat marking from Version 1.

To transfer the markings line up the two front skirt pattern pieces at the side seams. Not the centre fronts as they will be different because of the button placket.

The trace through the pleat lines either with a pencil or a tracing wheel, so you have them on the Version 2 skirt front.

You can use a pencil or a tracing wheel.
Markings on both version of the skirt pattern.

You can sew the pleats into place following the instructions for version 1, then carry on making the skirt up as for Version 2.

Happy Sewing!

Making More of Your Patterns: Changing the Desdemona Pleats

Desdemona Version 1 with inverted box pleats

Sometimes we all fancy a bit of a change and it is very easy to alter the appearance of your Desdemona by simply changing the pleats. After all this is one of the reasons we make our own clothes – to wear what you want!

Changing the Inverted Box Pleats to Knife Pleats

Knife pleats are just pleats that all face in the same direction. So to change the inverted box pleats already part of the Version 1 Desdemona Skirt, to knife pleats is pretty straightforward.

First fold out the pleat lines on the pattern to create the inverted pleats.

Fold and crease the pattern along the pleat lines and fold into the centre line.

Crease along the pleat lines and fold them into the centre. When you unfold the pleats in the paper pattern you’ll notice that you have creases that go up – peak folds and creases that go down – valley folds.

Peak fold go up and Valley fold go down!

To make the knife pleats lead away from the centre front/back, (working from the centre front/back to the side seam) leave the first pair of peak/valley folds as they are. The next pair of valley/peak folds change – so the valley becomes a peak fold and the peak becomes a valley fold. This swaps direction of the pleat and turns both pleats into knife pleats. Repeat this for the second group of pleat lines.

If you wanted to change the direction of the knife pleats just fold them so they lay in the opposite direction. It really is that easy!

Knife pleats all facing the same direction.

If you have the paper pattern folded the way the pleats are going to sit it will make it much easier to transfer this onto your fabric to make knife pleats all around the Desdemona Skirt. And you can just double check the pleats are in the correct position before you sew them in place.

You can also topstitch a short section along the leading edge of each pleat to help them stay flat too.

Beautiful knife pleats all facing the same direction

Happy Sewing!

Making More of Your Patterns : A Frill for Kate

If you’ve ever seen us at a show then you will definitely have seen our mannequin dressed in the brightest Kate Dress imaginable (with coordinating Infinity Scarf). Now before we get to the matter at hand, if you’d like the fabric that this Kate is made up in then you can. It’s Laundered Linen Sulphur. Now onto the frill…

Take 2 x rectangular pieces of fabric. Depth approx 12cm (or however deep you want your hem plus seam allowance) and width approx twice the width of your hem. Measure your hem at front and double it, then measure the width of the back hem and double it.

Pin the short ends together. Hem one long edge by either overlocking and turning up by 1.5cm or turning up 1cm twice. This will be the bottom of the frill.

Sew two rows of gathering stitches around the top of the frill with your longest stitch length on the machine. Sew one just inside the seam allowance and one just outside.

Find the Centre Front and Centre Back and mark with a pin/notch. You can then pull the gathering stitches to fit around the hem of the dress. Pin the side seams and the Centre Front and Centre Back, then gather in between, pin and sew. Finish the seam and press.

My Own Sewing Space

Some people may think that because I run a sewing business my space for sewing must be amazing!

Well I have to dispel any thoughts of a superbly designed sewing room with neatly stacked fabrics and everything I might need to hand. Painted in beautiful restful colours with gorgeous twinkling lights…. Well you get the picture. The image above is not my sewing space but from Andrea’s Notebook  and is an image I found on Pinterest. But I love the colours and simple quirkiness of the furnishings.

No – my sewing space is certainly not like that. I don’t actually have anywhere to sew at home. Unbelievable I know, but my house is rather on the small side, so I have to do any sewing I want to do at work. And it is more practical and by necessity than Instagram perfect that’s for sure.

Granted we do have a beautiful fully equipped studio where we run the workshops, and it can be very handy to have umpteen machines threaded up in different colours so I don’t have to stop and re-thread for top-stitching etc. But since moving to the new studio I’m finding that I need to have a corner of my own set up for sewing.

This is where I work at the moment. It’s not glamorous but it is basic and mostly practical.

This is the tidiest corner!
Patterns and Toiles
This is where I slave over my hot computers.
I need a bigger table

I have a cutting table, desk for my computer, some shelves and boxes of fabrics and I can shut the door.  But I am not by nature a tidy person. This may not come as a particular revelation to those that know and work with me! But I am hoping that by creating more of a personal creative space here in our new studio space I will inherently want to keep it tidier.

Hmmm…Maybe I need more boxes?
Yes definitely more boxes!

So, I have a wish list!

  • Enough table space to have my machine, overlocker and coverstitch machine out and available.
  • A system for storing all the tools I need making them close to hand but easy to tidy away.
  • Enough storage for all the fabric and old patterns I have. Yet stored in a system that means I can see and find everything easily.
  • Display space to have up images and inspiration for new patterns. Rather than storing them all in scrap books and folders.
  • A designated pressing area – sounds grander than it will actually be. Just a space to have the ironing board up and all the pressing paraphernalia close to hand.

I even have a Pinterest Board full of other people’s beautiful and practical sewing spaces. So I am making a plan and by telling you all about it, it means I really have to do it. And not make the usual excuses of being too busy!

Now you’ve seen my space maybe you have some ideas you can share with me on how to organise my sewing stuff and I’ll keep you posted on how the transformation goes.

Happy sorting


The Sewing Retreat – what it’s all about

Our Sewing Retreat is a chance to sew, chat, make friends, learn, fit, practice, perfect and just chill. All in luxury surroundings. Because let’s face it we all need a little bit of pampering sometimes and we can certainly provide some sewing pampering and support here!

We have looked at various locations for our retreats as, although we have a large studio just outside the town centre, we need a bit more space with some accommodation on site, so we are using a couple of the larger hotels in and around Stratford upon Avon to help us run them. Having said that we are beginning to go further afield and have our first Cornish Retreat in October this year.

The hotels have provided us with excellent sewing studio space that we will fully equip with sewing machines, overlockers, cutting tables and pressing stations. But you can choose to bring your own machines if you prefer to work on something more familiar.

The Sewing Retreat

The long weekend is a Retreat, and that distinction is really important, and it’s really all about helping you to make the clothes you want to wear. If you need help fitting or with specific techniques or processes, you’ll have the time and space to work through any issues or projects with expert help and tuition on hand if you need it. So you may want to nail the fit on that pair of trousers you’ve been wanting to make for ages. Or have a go on an overlocker and whizz up a Bianca Coat before working on a couple of other projects. Or perhaps you want some space to cut a few projects out and then decide which to make – the choice is yours!

We are not going to give you a list of patterns to work from, but we will give you an idea of what’s achievable during the time we have.

There will be help and guidance on the machines when required and also we will be running a  few Masterclass Demonstrations on some key processes we know are the ones people find tricky.

This Sewing Retreat really will move your sewing up to the next level as well as give you time to focus and relax.

There will be plenty of tea, coffee and cake to keep you sewing throughout the weekend and a gourmet restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner too.

When you’re not sewing you can relax using the hotel facilities which usually include gym, swimming pool, sauna and steam room to ease away any residual sewing tension!

What’s included in the Sewing Retreat….

  • A cuppa and cake on arrival
  • Help to make your sewing plans for the weekend using our sewing planner
  • Use of all the sewing machines, overlockers and equipment from 9am to 6pm.
  • A chance to visit the Sew Me Something studio to stock up on sewing supplies
  • Expert help and advice on all your sewing projects
  • Expert help and advice on fitting and pattern alterations
  • Masterclass demonstrations
  • Lunch and dinner on Friday
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturday
  • Breakfast and lunch on Sunday
  • Comfortable bedrooms for three nights
  • Use of all the hotel facilities

To be honest I have tried to create the kind of Retreat I would love to go on myself, and you will certainly get plenty of ‘Bang for your Buck’ during the time you have with us. Don’t worry if you are thinking of coming on your own either. You will soon make friends and we will do all we can to look after you and make you welcome.

This is what some of our past Sewing Retreat attendees have said about joining us. . .

“Very enjoyable. Venue excellent. Jules and CL were fantastic. So patient, attentive and professional. As well and warm fun and friendly. Have left with a pattern block that fits! Invaluable. I’m delighted!” Susan

“Great weekend. Learned loads. The trousers I made were great and fit perfectly. I just wish I’d had time to finish the Agnes top too. CL and Jules were so calm and knowledgeable – amazing mentors! Thank you for a great weekend.” Ruth

“There was a great atmosphere and the venue was lovely. Excellent support from both Jules and CL, and huge thanks to both. I learnt a lot of techniques which I wanted to learn. Thank you both for your calm expertise and generosity.” Kate

We deliberately keep the participant numbers small to make sure that all those that join us get a really good chunk of tutor time if they need it.

I can guarantee you will leave the Sewing Retreat knowing more than you did when you arrived. So what are you waiting for?! We can’t wait to host our next Sewing Retreat and I can’t wait to see you there!

What tools do you really need to start with?

When you start out on this fabulous journey that is sewing, it’s tempting to buy every single bit of kit that’s on the market, but all you really need is a sewing machine and some scissors!

However, it is nicer to have a bit more than that, especially if you really want to feel like a proper person that sews! So here is a list of the essential tools and equipment that I couldn’t be without and that will make your sewing life easier.

Sewing Machine
Pretty much a given that you need one of these so won’t go much further with this. See this previous post on “choosing the best machine for you” for some advice.

A good pair of sharp, long-bladed scissors is essential. I fond an 8″ 0r 9″ blade is long enough to get a good cut length but not too big they are cumbersome to manage. Oh and please only use them to cut fabric! Using them to cut anything else will just blunt them, and there is nothing worse than blunt scissors!

A small pair of embroidery or needlework scissors are really useful to snip off threads and get right into those corners that need snipping.

Tape Measure
A tape measure is necessary for accurate work and making sure that garments fit perfectly. Try and find a good quality one as cheaper ones can stretch over time and will affect accuracy. You can also drape it around your neck to really look the part!

How would we cope without these?! Glass-headed pins are easy to see and won’t melt if accidentally ironed over, but long, thin, steel dressmaker pins will last much longer and are far easier to work with when using finer fabrics. Keep them in a decorative tin if you like, but having them to hand in a pincushion is much more useful.

Get a variety and always use the correct needle for the fabric you are working with. You’d be surprised at the difference it makes to your sewing. We will be doing a blog specifically on this very soon.

Seam Ripper
This small tool is designed specifically to undo stitches in the wrong place. Try and find one with a little bobble on the shorter point, as this is the bit you insert under the seam to zip through stitches.

Tailor’s Chalk
This is a good choice for marking fabric as it’s easy to brush away. It’s important to keep the edges sharp,which you can do by drawing through a pair of part-opened scissors.

Marker Pens
Fade-away pens are a good choice for plainer fabrics but you will need to work with them immediately as they do fade over 48 hours. Wash-away pens stay in place until fabric is washed or cleaned.

An iron with a bit of weight behind it and a controllable steam will improve the finish of your sewing. Use it to open seams, press hems and create folds and creases. An iron can often reduce the amount of pinning or tacking between steps.

Those are the bits of equipment that I couldn’t do without. But there are plenty more bits of kit you can add to your wish list as you go along.

How to choose the best sewing machine for you

This was a dilemma we faced recently when we had to decide which new machines we would have in our studio as the current ones were going to be discontinued.

With hundreds of machines out there to buy where do you start when choosing the one that’s right for you? After all not only can it be an expensive investment, but it’s something that will offer you hours and hours of sewing pleasure. But if it’s not right for you it could end up being an expensive mistake that just sits in the cupboard.


What level of sewing do you do?
Are you a complete beginner, looking to improve your technical skills and sewing projects? Or maybe you have been sewing for ages and now want to treat yourself to something superduper with all the bells and lights and more embroidery stitches than you can count!

What do you want to sew?
Are you just looking for an all round machine that can cope with a bit of dressmaking soft furnishings and maybe some decorative stitches? Will you be mainly making curtains or soft furnishings with a few alterations thrown in. Or are you more of a quilter that needs a large throat on a machine for bigger quilting projects?

There will be a lot of crossover here as many machines do similar stuff allowing you to both quilt and dressmake for example. But it is worth considering what YOU will want a machine to do for YOU.

Where do you want to sew?
If you have a sewing space at home and you don’t need to pack your machine away every time you use it then it doesn’t necessarily matter how heavy your machine is. On the other hand if you are going to a regular sewing group or you need to pack your machine away frequently you may want to consider a lighter weight machine that you can mange more easily.

What to look for…

Start simple! But go for the best you can afford. (If you decide you really don’t like sewing – unlikely I know – but then your machine will have a better resale value if you decide to get rid of it). Buying a cheap and cheerful machine can seem like a good idea at the time but could be a false economy if you really get into sewing. You could also look at getting a reconditioned one that has been serviced by a professional. If you are very new to sewing or will only use it occasionally then we suggest a basic electric machine that does the following:

  • Basic range of stitches – stright, zigzag and buttonhole
  • Top-loading (less chance of threads getting tangled)
  • Foot pedal for sewing at your own pace

Once you’ve got the hang of this sewing thing and you know what it is that you love to sew it’s time to get a bit fancier with your machine. A computerised machine may look scary but it actually far easier to use. One thing that I really looked for when choosing a new machine after using one at my sewing class was whether it had a needle up/ down button (a machine that has an up/down needle feature means that when you stop the machine the needle stays up or stays down in the fabric- you can determine which position it stays in and makes pivoting around corners quicker). We suggest a machine that does the following:

  • Wider range of stitches – including an overlocker stitch to neaten raw edges and a stretch stitch for knit fabrics
  • Wider range of machine feet including automatic buttonhole foot, blind hem foot, free motion embroidery foot (also called a darning foot) and a stitch in the ditch
  • Extra accessories like an extension table as this gives you more flat space to sew on and a presser foot knee lift to leave your hands free.
  • Wider range of features like the needle up/down button, the auto lock button, the auto thread cutter button and being able to lower the feed dogs

ADVANCED LEVEL (£800 plus)
If you sew often and are serious about it you will want a machine that has all the tricks. Depending on what you are sewing we suggest a machine that does the following:

  • Stronger motor that will allow you to sew heavier and thicker layers of fabrics. But this is likely to be heavier machine.
  • Semi industrial machine if you are using your sewing machine for business. But these do not tend to have many, if any decorative stitches.
  • Specialist embroidery machine which has pre-programmed patterns


The best thing to do when you want to buy a machine is go and test them out. Department and specialist stores will expect you to want to have a fiddle to see if a machine is right for you. Also visiting large scale events such as the Sewing for Pleasure Show at the NEC in March or the Knitting & Stitching Shows at Olympia, Alexandra Palace and Harrogate will mean you can chat through with all the major brand names and find out exactly what their machines can offer you.

Happy Sewing Machine shopping!