Apples, Oranges, Pears, Bananas

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Would a size by any other name fit the same? I know I’m badly mis-quoting Shakespeare here but listening to a programme on iplayer the other day prompted me to think about dressmaking pattern sizing as opposed to commercial clothing sizing.

Surfing through iplayer to find something interesting to listen to the other day I stumbled upon a programme called More or Less. One of the topics covered in the programme was on clothes sizing, something that I get asked about a hugely in our workshops.

It was only a short piece but rather interesting, you can listen to the full programme here and the piece about sizing starts at 19.45.

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Commercial sizing hasn’t been around that long at all really, as before the Second World War clothes were mainly tailor made, made at home or were bought from department store or catalogues and then altered.

In the 1950’s the UK Board of Trade did an enormous survey of women’s measurements in an attempt to try and standardise it all to encourage women to shop for stuff and aid the flagging economy after the war. However, due to the huge number of sizes needed to cater for the majority of the population, that was just unworkable.

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This is one of the main reasons the fashion industry has to work with averages. If the bust size of the smallest customer is X and the Largest Y then the measurements in between need to be divided pretty evenly to create a ‘range’ of sizes to cover most people and are usually labelled 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 etc.  But to be honest it might as well be apples, oranges, pears, bananas, as the name of the size has absolutely no bearing on the actual measurements.

So, if we can accept that the names of the sizes are not directly connected to our body measurements and don’t really mean anything relevant,  it all sounds pretty doable – right? Except when you bring into consideration the more modern concept of the ‘target customer’.

Designers and manufacturers all have their own specific target markets. Top Shop’s range is about age 16 -25 young slim and athletic frames. While White Stuff is more 25 – 55 with a slightly more mature figure (that’s euphemism for a fatter tum!). Evans and other brands may cater for even more specific demographics, but each has their ideal customer.

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Going by exact body measurements the population would comprise of the 126 different sizes mentioned int the Radio 4 piece, but do you really want to be described as size 114 or size 0? I don’t think I would to be honest. Each group of customers, rather than being differentiated by individual size, has appropriated the ‘normal size’ banding of 8 -26  so a size 12 from Top Shop will of course be different from a size 12 in White Stuff or Evans, yet they are still all called ‘size 12’.  And so ‘vanity sizing’ has appeared to become the norm.

Although I don’t necessarily think this is all bad. I am careering headlong into middle age with breakneck speed and have the grey hairs and extra inches to prove it, but even if I still had the figure I used to in my twenties I don’t think I would want to shop where my teenage daughter does. My attitude, lifestyle and general outlook on life have guided me to find my own ‘Style Tribe’. I know the brands of clothing that suit me and I know roughly what size I am. I’m not that bothered if the size 16 I wear should really be a size 24 or anything else. If it fits and I feel good – that’s alright with me.

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Perhaps this is where us Independent Pattern Designers have the edge on the ‘Big Boys’. While they are still trying to be all things to all people we can be more specific. Our branding and size charts also reflect who we design for – usually people like us.

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I love the aesthetic of Sew Over It patterns, they have a wonderfully distinct vintage look to them. The same applies to Tilly, her pretty colours and 60’s inspired silhouettes again feed another group of dressmakers. A lot of the time we dip in and out of different ‘Tribes’ too, depending on our moods or occasion. I buy from White Stuff, Boden and Hobbs as well as M&S.  

So does it really matter that sizing is different from one company to another? Granted it’s hard to navigate the choppy waters of sizing on the High Street, but should it make that much difference to us if we are going to be making our own clothes? The information supplied with each pattern includes the body measurements for the different sizes. After all we measure and fit and alter the clothes to suit our own shapes and bodies.

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Don’t we?

Or do we just expect it to fit if we make up a specific size? Most of the time I make up a Toile to check the fit before I make up the final garment.

So what do you do?

Jules x

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Is September the New January

File 05-09-2017, 17 01 48I am wearing a scarf!

I’m also sitting in the garden with a cup of coffee answering emails and generally planing my day and the week ahead. But I’m wearing a scarf – and there in lies the difference.

The mornings are becoming distinctly Autumnal and there is a bit of a chill on the back of my neck as I sit on the bench in the garden, so my scarf has its first outing of the new season.

August has ended and with it the Summer holidays. Gone are the relaxed mornings without having to duck the sniper like bullets of questions fired at me by a sulky teenager late for school. My kitchen table has been an oasis of early morning calm throughout August, as those of you who wrangle teenagers will know – they rarely surface before noon.

September has sidled her way in and every day the changes in season become more apparent. Our tomato plants have heaved their last sigh and the few remaining fruits have turned a beautiful golden orange. Our Elder tree has almost been picked clean by the starlings, save the ones I managed grab. And my youngest is back to school in her last year of High School.

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The last of the tomatoes.
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What’s left of the elderberries.
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Orla and Sugar

The wheel is turning – but I rather like that.

I rather enjoy the ending of something you have enjoyed, but know will return. It’s the opportunity to  say “thank you, see you again soon” and then “Hello again, back already” to what is to come with all that Autumn has to offer.

I really enjoy making plans for the new things that are to come. Friends of mine lament the loss of Summer and the longer light evenings, but there is nothing nicer that coming home lighting the fire and cosying up as the evenings becomes darker and the weather more inclement.

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The change from Summer to Autumn around September time is far more pronounced than the actual New Year in January, for me at least. After all the 1st January is still mid-Winter, but maybe it has more to do with the new academic year starting. Traditionally children were given the summer months free from schooling to help their families with the harvests. Then when all was safely gathered in they had to start back again. So I suppose it all links together somehow.

My sewing plans are changing too. Some of the projects I really want to make have had to go on the “next year pile”. But that gives me space to focus on other projects that need to be prepared and started in readiness for the Winter.

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The lovely winter coat I have been using for the last 10 years has finally given up the ghost so that is a project I need to complete fairly swiftly!

I’d like some new trousers, slim legged but not sure of the pocket detail yet.

The Julia top, lengthened is easy to throw on over jeans, so a couple of those in some new French Terry or quilted jersey would be great.

I also fancy a new dress. Maybe one with a waist seam and pockets? Where’s my sketchbook I feel some designing coming on…..

What are you planning on making this Autumn? I’d love to know.

Jules x

The Day We Went To Brum

File 04-09-2017, 16 47 57Thank you so much to all of you that come to meet us for a bit of fabric shopping in Birmingham last week.

It was lovely to see some familiar faces waiting at Stratford Station and waving out of the window attracted a few more to join us at a couple of the stops on the way.

We met more people at Saint Martin’s Church, familiar faces and some new ones too.

The Rag Market was our first stop and to be honest I could have spent all morning in there.

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Looks like the ladies have found something interesting, and it’s not like they’re posing or anything!! 
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There’s even more fabric in the market outside too!

Then it was lunch at Browns while we shared our fabric finds. Luckily we missed the main shower – or so we thought. 

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As we headed over to Barry’s Fabrics the heavens opened and a rather sodden group of sewists arrived to drip all over even more fabric.

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This is definitely one for a “caption competition” !

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The last stop of the day was Fancy Silks to drool over yet more gorgeous fabrics. Although I had spent my quota already so I may have to come back again soon.

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The sun shines on the righteous!

I think the day was held up as a resounding success and everyone enjoyed themselves hugely,  including me.

The general consensus is that we need to do this again as fabric shopping with other fabric minded people is SO MUCH more fun!

So watch this space as we will be organising another one before Christmas.

Jules x

 

How to Make a Fabric Necklace

IMG_0681I’m often asked in the shop or at shows where I get my necklaces from. Well, I make them! And they are really easy to do, so I thought I would show you just how easy they are.

You’ll need :

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A fat quarter of fabric

6 polystyrene balls about 2 – 3cm in diameter

Matching thread

IMG_0656Measure around a polystyrene ball to get its circumference. In my case it was 6.5cm. Add on the seam allowances of  2cm. This gives you the width of the strips of fabric you need to cut as 8.5cm.

 

Cutting

Press and lay out the fabric so it’s nice and flat. If using several layers line them up so the selvedges are level.

IMG_0657I often find they are so quick and easy to do you can make several in one go by layering up the fabric and cutting 3 or 4 layers at a time.

IMG_0658Cut bias strips from the fat quarter the cutting width you need. Cut enough strips to sew together to make about 1m. In this case it was only 2 strips needed.

IMG_0659Sew the strips together by lining up the first strip with the right side up horizontally. Then place the second strip with the right side down, vertically over the end of the first strip.

IMG_0661Sew diagonally from the top left corner to the bottom right corner. Trim down the seam to just under 1cm.

IMG_0662Then press the seam open and flat.

IMG_0664Fold the bias strip in half lengthwise with the right sides on the inside.

IMG_0665Sew a seam just under 1cm along the raw edges to create a tube. You don’t really need to pin,  you can use your fingers as pins to hold the layers together as you sew.

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Turn the tube the right way around. I’ve used a rouleau turner here but you could pin across one end and push it through with a pencil instead.

 

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Use the latch on the loop turner to poke through the folded edge of the fabric.
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As you pull the loop turner down into the tube the latch closes and brings the edge of the tube with it.
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A bias strip of Cumberland sausage

 

In the middle of the length of bias tube, tie a knot.

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Then thread a polystyrene ball down the tube until it hits the knot.

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Tie another knot keep the poly ball tight up against the first knot.

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Repeat so you have 3 balls one side of the centre knot.

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Then thread a poly ball and tie a knot on the other side of the centre knot. Repeat the process again so you have a central knot with 3 balls either side and 3 knots holding them in place.

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Cut the ends of the tube off so they are level.

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Tuck in the raw edges and slip stitch them closed. Give the ends a quick press to help them sit flat.

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Now you can tie the ends together to wear your necklace

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Happy Sewing!

An Even Quicker Unpicker

Sew Me Something Macro -5Did you know about the little red blob on your un-picker? It isn’t there to just look beautiful, it really does have a practical purpose as well.

If you want to unpick a seam super quick all you need to do is use the shorter spike on your un-picker, the one with the red blob, under the row of stitching and then “zip”along the row of sewing slicing through the stitches.

The red blob prevents the spike poking through the underneath of the fabric and slicing though the garment as well.

Give it a go, it really does make for quicker unpicking!

 

How to Sew Darts Without Dimples

File 15-08-2017, 16 57 36Darts are one of the things that I’m asked about frequently when I’m teaching dressmaking. How to mark them, sew them and how to avoid getting that little dimple at the end are the most common questions.

So let me explain….

Firstly let’s look at what darts are and what they do.

Where the dart shaping is

 

Darts are a form of “suppression”. That is they   suppress the fabric to create the three-dimensional shape you want to fit around and over the body. Pleats, gathers, tucks are also forms of suppression that allow you to mould and manipulate the fabric to create the shapes you want.

Darts will reduce the fabric from the apex of a curve to the outer edge or in the case of a fishtail or asymmetric darts to an area of ‘fit’. So basically creating shape over your curved bits – bust, buttocks, belly and shoulder blades – those areas really.

 

In flat pattern terms a dart does the same job as a split in a flat piece of paper which when overlapped pushes the centre of the paper up to create a three-dimensional shape.

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Cutting through the paper allows the “dart” to be removed.
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The dart is folded outfit decreases the outer edge causing the middle to lift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most darts will be marked on the pattern as straight lines.

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However, our bodies are not made up of straight lines. We are a series of curves, some more than most but we are all most definitely not Lego people or Madonna with pointy boobs!

This means that the darts we need should follow the curves of the body. I will explain further once we’ve looked at how to mark out the darts.

Marking Darts

Transferring the dart markings from pattern to fabric can be done in a whole host of different ways. Many people like tailors tacks and admittedly they do have their place in some sewing projects, but coming from industry and being used to speedier sewing techniques I prefer the double pin method.

Another handy tip is to mark the end of the dart 1cm back from the point of the dart before you mark the dart onto the fabric. You’ll see the reason when we come to sew the dart.

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Double pinning

Snip the ends of the legs of the dart as they sit on the edge of the garment.

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Only very small snips mind, nothing that goes in too far to the seam allowance.

Poke a pin through the end of the dart (the new one, 1cm back from the original point) and then flip over the fabric and pattern.

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I have made a hole at the new point to allow the pin head to go though the paper more easily.

Where you can see the pin is poking out from the underneath layer push another back through.

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Carefully remove the pattern allowing the pin head to slip through the hole to mark the dart. Then when you remove the pattern and separate the layers of fabric a pin should remain in each piece marking the end of the dart.

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You can use this method to mark any type of dart, but just be careful the pins don’t fall out before you’ve pinned the dart in place!

Pinning the dart

Pinch the fabric together creating a small pleat and match up the small snips at the edge of the fabric and pin vertically in together.

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Follow the crease of the pleat until you reach the marker pin. Then remove and replace that pin vertically where it came out.

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You can draw in the dart line if you choose with a fabric pen or tailors chalk.

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Another handy hint is to use the tail of the starting threads to pull around and use as a guide once you’ve sewn a couple of stitches.

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Pull off extra long tails of thread.
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Use the threads to act as a guide for stitching the dart.

Sewing the dart

Starting at the edge of the fabric sew in towards the point of the dart. Now going back to what we mentioned earlier about the darts following the contours of the body, this now means that the dart we sew will be slightly curved and NOT a straight line. Admittedly it is subtle but it will make a difference to how the dart sits and fits over the body.

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The sewing line sits in a very slight curve above the chalk line.

And marking the end of the dart 1cm back from the point also allows us to curve or “stitch into the dart” by extending the stitching line almost parallel to the edge of the fabric.

This reduces the angle that the sewing line hits the folded edge of the dart and means the end of dart will lay flat and not dimple. My old needlework teacher used to say “think hill not mountain”!

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The stitching line gently curves into the fold of the dart creating a smooth line.

When you get to the end of the dart you can either run a few stitches off the fabric and then knot the ends – great for lightweight fabrics.

Or personally I prefer to drop the needle down, pivot the fabric around and sew back into the dart. This is quick and easy and won’t bulk out the end of the stitching too much.

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Pivot at the end of the dart and sew back into the dart pleat.

Sewing a slightly curved off dart is just one of those things to practice. It is a good opportunity to get some scraps out and sew a dozen to get the hang of it. It’s like anything – the more you do the better you’ll get.

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Pressing the dart

First of all it’s best to ‘set the stitches’ this just means pressing the dart as you’ve stitched it, so the stitches are pressed into the fabric and ‘set’. Do this from both sides of the dart.

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Then press the dart from the right side over a tailor’s ham or if you don’t have one of those a tightly rolled towel will do.

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Press carefully from the right side to allow the curve to remain in the dart.

Pressing carefully will help to eliminate those pesky dimples at the ends of the darts as well.

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No unsightly dimples at the end of the dart.
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From the wrong side you can see how the dart just comes to a neat point with no extra bulk.

This method of marking, sewing and pressing darts is certainly not the only way to do it, but I know it does give good results and sewing good darts is definitely worth getting right. It will give a much more professional look to your finished garments.

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Happy dart sewing

Jules x

How to work out which size pattern to cut.

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Making your own clothes is an amazing super power. Getting them to fit perfectly can be a little more tricky. What helps is making up the right size for you – yes I know that sounds obvious but when it comes to selecting the right size to make up there are a few things to take into consideration.

Pattern companies are like high street brands in that there is no standardisation in measuring sizes. Just as a size 12 in say Topshop will be completely different to a size 12 in M&S.

The sizing bands on different pattern brands can be a little skewed. However, using the sizing information pattern companies already provide on the pattern envelopes and printed onto the pattern pieces themselves can help.

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All commercial and Indie patterns will have their own measurements printed on the pattern information and some on the pattern pieces themselves.

Your measurements

First things first however. You really need to get a set of your own measurements together. This may sound daunting but you don’t have to show anyone else unless you want to I promise! And if you use centimetres it doesn’t sound ‘real’ anyway. I’ve created a little Crib Sheet download of basic body measurements to help you take your own set of measurements and you can keep them safely under lock and key if you prefer.

 

The pattern’s measurements

All patterns will have their own sets of body measurements – these may vary but will give you a starting point and will normally include bust, waist, hips.

I generally find it quite useful to mark on the pattern information where I fall in terms of their sizing.

However, what’s more useful are…

The Finished Garment Measurements

Patterns also have Finished Garment Measurements – these are what the garment will actually measure around the bust, waist, hips etc. when laid out flat.

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The difference between these and the body measurements is the amount of ease included in the garment.

Let’s digress slightly…

There are two types of ease – wearing or fit ease and design ease.

 

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Wearing ease – this is the amount of space you need inside a garment to be able to actually move about while wearing it. Typically in a fitted sheath dress for example you would need about  5 – 10cm ease on the bust, 3 – 5cm on the waist and about the same on the hips. This enables you to move around easily but still retain a fitted silhouette.

Design ease – this is the amount of extra room the designer has added into the pattern to create the desired shape and silhouette. For example our Kate dress fits smoothly over the bust but then skims out over the waist and hips providing a relaxed and ‘easy’ fit.

Back to the Plan…

You can determine the amount of ease within a pattern by taking the body measurement from the finished garment measurement.

 Finished -Body = EASE

The general rule of thumb is to use your bust or hip measurements to determine which size you choose to make up.

Now I want to start waving a little red flag here.

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Using your hip measurement for skirts and trousers will probably be fine as it is much easier to alter the waist to make it larger or smaller depending on your waist to hip ratio.

But using your bust measurement can throw up issues, especially if you are of the fuller bust variety of person. Just going by your bust measurement could result in you making a larger size than you need, which could in turn mean the shoulders and neckline are too large and will gape and slide off.

Don’t panic though! This is where the extra High Bust Measurement can help. With most of the Big Four US pattern companies if you are over a C cup you may well need to perform a Full Bust Adjustment to give you the extra fabric you need across the bust but keep the correct sizing to ensure that the garment still fits over the shoulders and neckline alright.

We have a Tutorial right here to show you how that’s done.

With our patterns it’s if you are over a D cup. Other Indie pattern companies will have their own sizing as well.

This is only a ‘Rule of Thumb’ as of course each pattern will need to be judged on its own merits, fit and measurements.

Once you know the amount of ease included in a pattern and whether you need to make a FBA or SBA (small bust adjustment) you can make a judgement call on whether you want to go up or down a size.

Most of the time you’ll find that you fall across a couple of sizes and may be a size 12 on the bust, 16 on the waist and 14 on the hips. Let me just say THAT’S FINE! Very few people fit one size band completely. This is one of the reasons that modern patterns are multi-size now, so you can grade across the sizes to fit your own personal measurements – after all isn’t that why we make our own clothes?

It is very easy to cross over the lines from one size to another. Just make sure to keep the lines smooth and flowing. We don’t have any odd sharp corners on our bodies, well we shouldn’t have, so neither should our patterns. The best way to do this is to use a set of French Curves or a Pattern Master to help you smooth out the new cutting lines for your pattern pieces.

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The pattern has gone from a size 12 on the bust through a size 14 on the waist to a size 16 on the hips.

Now you have worked out a more accurate way of deciding which size pattern to cut hopefully you will be able to sew better fitting clothes.

Happy Cutting!

9 Reasons To Take Part in a Sewing Workshop

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It can be really daunting turning up to a workshop in a place you’re unfamiliar with and facing people you don’t know. I have let my own fears put me off attending things and joining courses in the past and I actually run workshops!

It was while chatting in one of the workshops I teach that a lady confessed that it had taken her quite a while to pluck up the courage to come along. This surprised me as she was really confident and chatty. So we pursued the conversation and it turned out that she had had her own preconceptions about the workshop and that everyone would be really good and she would get left behind.

This got me wondering if there were others who wanted to join workshops but were just a bit too…. Or it was all a bit….

So these are just 9 reasons why you should find one for you and join in.

It’s easier to See and then Do – I understand that this is a HUGE generalisation but most people I’ve come across who do creative stuff are visual or kinesthetic learners, or more likely a combination of both. By this I mean that it’s far easier to watch how someone else does it so you can copy them. Now I realise that you can do this on YouTube or Google and rewind over and over again. But often the angles aren’t quite right or you just want someone to say, “pin it there” or “hold it like that” and you’re away.

You can ask anything – If your tutor is an expert in what they’re teaching, and they should be, workshops are a fabulous opportunity to ask anything! There is no such thing as a daft question. I think that’s really important and something I want to emphasise. And the ‘daft question’ you want to ask will probably be asked by someone else anyway.

You‘ll meet other people just like you – When you join a workshop you are already with other people that have something in common with you – a love of, or an interest in, whatever the workshop is for. I have lots of lovely friends that go way back, but none of them sew! Unbelieveable I know, but true. So I love it when I can get all nerdy talking seam finishes or the benefits of an overlocker during workshops. I’ve found my tribe.

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You WILL learn stuff you didn’t know before – This is something I absolutely guarantee! Even if it’s just that the capital city of Tibet is Lhasa, yes this really did come up in conversation (but if that’s the only thing you go away with I feel I will have failed in my job as an educator). However, there are always things you didn’t know before and extra nuggets of information you will take away with you from a workshop. Everyday is a school day and we all learn things from each other during the workshops too.

When you’re sewing at home it is so easy to get bogged down with all the other really important thing s that need doing like laundry or cooking dinner or, or, or…

Workshops give you time out – The space and time you need away from everything else. We have people come to workshops who could probably do whatever we’re doing in the workshop on their own but really enjoy having some time to themsleves. I’ve mentioned before in other blogs how important it is to have that time and space just for you. Workshops facilitate mindfulness – there I’m getting all Zen again!

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They help your confidence grow – Whether you do a one off short workshop or a longer course. You will see an improvement in both your skills and understanding in a relatively short space of time. I think that is because of the tangible nature of what you’re creating. You are physically holding and manipulating fabric to transform it into something else. You can literally see the transformation happening before your very own eyes. So often we work in offices or on computers where you never really see what you’re working with it’s all ‘virtual’. Or we’re or at home running around doing chores and tidying up only to have all our hard work undone when the family get home – I really get that one! So seeing what you create and other people can admire provides a huge boost in confidence.

You can learn at your own pace – Our class sizes are usually pretty small, only a maximum of 6 for dressmaking and pattern cutting so there is no need to feel like you HAVE to keep up. And other independently run workshops are pretty much the same too. I and all our tutors are really happy to go over things as many times as required for you to get it right. And I sometimes act as a “sewing sous chef” to help you get things done during the time we have. Never the interesting bits mind, just the boring bits you already know how to do.

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There are no EXAMS! – No one is judging you or testing you on what you’ve achieved or asking you to provide evidence of criteria met. This is learning for the pure joy of learning new stuff. Even when we run a workshop on a specific pattern like the Kate Dress, all the individual dresses created by the end of the day are amazing in their own way. And you are able to take inspiration from other people on the workshops too, who may have used a contrasting fabric or picot edge binding. These ideas are stored away ready to come out when you start sewing again.

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There’s always cake! – Well at our workshops anyway. We try and make the cakes and cookies we have at our workshops ourselves. I know Rachel has a bit of a reputation of being a demon baker and my lemon drizzle cake always goes down well. We want you to feel relaxed and at home when you join us for a workshop. After all you are putting your faith and trust in us to be able to help you to sew better.

The least we can do is to make you feel welcome and put the kettle on.

Jules x

Sewing Is Food For The Soul

IMG_0205.JPGI cannot remember a time when I didn’t know how to sew.

That’s a bold statement I realise but it’s true. I have been sewing since I was 5 or 6 years old, which is now well over 40 years ago. And I don’t know about you, but my memories don’t really stretch much past that. Sewing and dressmaking have given me so much. 

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Red, pink and yellow – I knew it would work even then. Or is it more rhubarb and custard?

It has given me something to do – When I was a child loafing around not sure how to occupy myself during school holidays the response from my elders was “go and make something”. So I did. I raided my Grandmother’s scrap bags and hand stitched crude dresses and outfits for my Cindy dolls (see it really is over 40 years ago).

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Beautiful re- imagined Dolls by Sonia Singh. You can find them on Etsy. https://www.etsy.com/shop/treechangedolls

It has allowed to create my own style – When I was younger in my teenage years the more outlandish the better. The New Romantic fashion tribe I belonged to allowed me to go overboard on frills and flounces. I could run something up on a Friday ready to wear clubbing that night safe in the knowledge I was unique. No other bird of paradise would have quite the same plumage.

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C&H Fabrics Tunbridge Wells Annual Fashion Show circa 1985.

As the years are marching on ever quicker I am still able to create my own look and style identity albeit in a more understanded grey laundered linen kind of way.

It’s taught me patience – In my youth I would run up something really quickly so I could wear it that night not bothered about neatening seams or finishing inside as long as it looked good from the outside. After all image was everything. But as I have sewn more projects over more and more years I am appreciating the processes involved in constructing and creating a piece of clothing. And I do still like to run up something to wear at the weekend, although not necessarily to go clubbing, but I’m not in that much of a rush I want to compromise the quality of what I create anymore.  

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It’s given me a new BFF – Yes meet my unpicker. We go back a long way. My old needlework teacher used to say “make friends with your unpicker”. Making mistakes and unpicking your stitching is part and parcel of sewing and making clothes. Get over it! Embrace the time you take unpicking to reflect on how you can make your sewing better, or some other Zen like shit.

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It’s made me curious – After all the unpicking I’ve done on the many sewing projects I’ve undertaken, it has made me want to find out better, more effective and easier ways of sewing different processes. Part of this comes from my career in fashion, but also because I’m actually quite lazy and can’t be bothered to hand sew if I really don’t have to. 

I’ve learnt how to be a furtive photographer – Clothes shopping is more of a trial than a treat now, but every once in awhile I will stumble upon a dress or top and I can’t quite work out how they’ve inserted that panel or attached that collar.

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Neat pocket insertion!

This is where my furtive photography skills have been honed. Putting my phone on silent, discreetly taking said item of apparel into the changing room and turning it inside out to see exactly how they’ve managed to sew it all together. Then taking as many pictures as I can so I can remember how to do it myself when I get home. Anyone looking at my camera roll might be forgiven for thinking it had turned itself on inside a bag of laundry there are so many pictures of raw edges and seams.

I’ve found a sense of community – Working in the fashion industry and the education sector can be very lonely and isolating. Fashion isn’t friendly, but sewing is. Since setting up Sew Me Something, my haberdashery shop and sewing studio I have found like minded souls who seek solace in sewing as I do. The wonderful people that come into the shop or join our workshops have become friends who ‘get’ what I’m into and can revel in being nerdy over seam finishes. I have found my tribe.

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Me, Jenni Taylor @jennibobtaylor and Elle Harris @sewpositivity

I have discovered I am normal sized!! At whatever point in my life I am and whatever size I am I’m normal. Despite what it might say on the measurements on the back of the pattern envelopes. (They are 70 years out of date anyway.  Don’t get me started on that, it’s a whole other rant!) But because I am making clothes only for me my size is ‘normal’ whatever it is. I don’t have to squeeze my ample flesh into a dress in a badly lit cubicle and feel a failure. I can just pin a bit in here or there in the comfort of my own house and marvel at how gorgeous I look!

It’s now acceptable to make your own clothes – In my teenage years I was a bit of an oddity, a non-conformist who was very nearly thrown out of Grammar school and used clothes as a way of visibly rebelling. I was on the tail end of the generation that was taught ‘proper dressmaking’ in school. But even then it was fading out of popularity. Mass produced clothing was so cheap, so what was the point of making your own? Those of us that did became a kind of underground cult. A raised eyebrow or nod of the head became a universal sign to acknowledge approval of a ‘homemade’ item.

Fast forward 30years and the Cult of Craft has arrived. It’s now cool to make stuff, even if you can afford to buy it. And it’s acceptable to ask someone “Did you make that?” Because the answer won’t be a shameful nod but a resplendent “Yes I did!”

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Yes it’s Helena – I can’t get enough of them.

It’s given me peace – After all the years I’ve been sewing and teaching the thousands of people that come to our workshops this is something I can say with all confidence. Sewing provides peace. Mental health issues have always been with us but they seem to be more visible now and I have seen at first hand how the simple act of taking a piece of cloth, cutting it, pinning it and sewing it into something else provides the calm mental clarity that so many of of us crave.

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When you’re sewing you are in and of the moment, unconcerned with anything else except what you happen to be doing right now. That is so freeing and almost like a meditation in itself.

This I think is THE best thing sewing has given me.

Jules x

To Toile or not to Toile that is the question?

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A toile, if you haven’t come across the term before, is a prototype or mock up of a garment you want to make up. It’s a way of working out all the niggles and fit issues before having to cut into your beautiful and very lovely, expensive fabric.

But firstly I’d like to clear up a bit of confusion that seems to reign over this process and the various name given to it. Toile, Muslin, Calico these are all names used for pretty much the same thing, but also have other meanings too.

Calico

The name Calico is derived from Calicut, the European name for the Indian city of Kozhikode. When Dutch traders began to visit India in the 17th century they brought back Indian textiles, particularly a simple, cheap, plain weave cotton fabric block printed in multicoloured floral designs.

Calico is the name used in the UK to describe this type of plain, but unprinted, natural state cotton fabric. It can sometimes be the name used for a prototype version of a garment as well.

Calico in the US often means a plain cotton fabric that has a small floral printed design.

Muslin

Muslin is the term used in the US and Canada for the same type of plain weave unprinted fabric as calico. But it is also the term given to a prototype garment.

In the UK Muslin is the name given to a lighter weight more open weave fabric. More like a gauze and often used to strain food (or in my case elderflower gin!)

Toile

A toile (pronounced twarhl) is the term used mainly in the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. For the prototype version of a garment. This name originates from the type of fabric used, a rough, light-weight cotton canvas that was used to create the Toile de Jouy prints of the 1760’s. Toile is French for canvas. These were printed with small intricate woodblock designs, and they were an imitation of the Indian block print designs brought to Europe by Dutch traders.

So you can see how, although all these terms are different, they basically all relate to the same thing. It just appears that the particular name given to a plain, even weave cotton fabric can also be used to describe the prototype version of a garment depending on what part of the world you’re in. So whether it’s tomayto or tomarto, calico, toile or muslin they are all referring to creating a practice run of whatever you want to make.

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So back to my original question – To Toile or not to Toile?

It’s question I get asked quite often in our workshops so I thought I would pose the question on social media too to see what other people think about “toile-ing up” or “making a muslin” as it’s known in the US.

The responses were really interesting. Of all the people that replied to my question 20% said they would rarely or never make a toile, 23% will sometimes make a toile depending on the pattern/fabric and 54% said they always make a toile.

So I thought I would go through my reasons for making a toile to see if they resonate with anyone else. Firstly I have to say that I rarely make up commercial patterns either from the Big Four or other Indies. This is probably more to do with the fact that I have quite fixed ideas about what I want to make and wear and find it really hard to find that anywhere other than in my own head.

 

I design as I make.

Although I will always draw out what I want to make I often find that ideas will emerge as I’m making something up. So I will always make a toile with a new pattern even if I’m working from a block I know works for fit and shape.

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For example, if I want to add a frill to the hem of a Kate dress I will adapt an old toile to get the depth and proportion of the frill right in relation to the rest of the dress. I might only add the frill to the front part of the dress, but it gives me a better idea of how it will look.

I can record what I do

I take pictures, and lots of them, of the different stages of making up a pattern. If I’m using a particular process or technique I will photograph it as I go. So I can use this as a set of visual notes for when I make up another version or one to be used as a Final Pattern.

I also write on my toiles and make notes on them as to the alterations needed. “Add 1.5cm here” with a big arrow usually does the trick.

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I can try out new processes

If I’m unsure as to the best way to do something I can give it a go. Because of my background working in industry I’m always looking at quicker and more efficient ways of sewing different processes. So I will often just mock up a particular section of a garment to experiment with the best way to complete it using a combination of calico and paper. Some of you mentioned ’tissue fitting’ using just the pattern pieces first and this can work really well. I did this with the front placket for the Imogen Top and eventually decided the most effective way was to sew the placket on from the wrong side and top stitch from the right side.

Voila! No hand sewing = quicker to make up.

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I can get the fit just right

This is probably the most important, and the main reason by far, that the respondents to my question gave for making up their own toiles. If you happen to be a standard – not average – standard, size you will probably get away without having to alter much on the fit of most garments you make.

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Pattern companies have to work with averages when it comes to calculating standardised sizes. Which means almost by definition most of us will not adhere to these. Therefore, unless you are pretty confident with a pattern already or if the pattern requires little or no fitting you will probably benefit from making up a practice run first.

In my case I know I have a fuller bust in proportion to my overall size. Most commercial pattern companies will use a standard B cup size for their patterns. I think this is incredibly outdated (don’t get me started!!) and one of the reasons the most common pattern adaptation is the Full Bust Adjustment.

The blocks we use for most of our patterns are a C cup. The styles of our patterns are for the most part pretty roomy and include a lot of ease so a C cup is fine at the moment. This may well change. If our designs become slightly more fitted I will alter the blocks to reflect this (but this is a whole other story for another day!).

I know that I will have to make an FBA adaptation to most of the patterns I make up. Luckily I have my own set of blocks that include this alteration already. So when I’m making up a new pattern I will usually try it out with my own blocks first before using our standard ones for the other samples.

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I am also a combination of sizes, as are most people. So grading between sizes or crossing over the tramlines can be really useful too. I know I have a lower waist to hip ratio i.e. I have a bit of a tum. So will almost certainly have to go from one size on the hips to a large size on the waist. This is easy when you have a multi-sized pattern.

 

Is there a down-side to Toiles?

Some of the comments made in reply to my question involved the cost of producing a toile and I can understand this. If you’ve already costed out the fabric to make a garment it can make it much more expensive if you have to factor in extra fabric to make up the toile. But I loved the idea of using old duvet covers or curtains, this appeals to me and my ‘waste not want not’ kind of attitude. And it’s a good excuse to go trawling through a few charity shops.

I can also appreciate the frustration of just wanting to make it and wear it. And this is something I have had to overcome myself. I have tried really hard to reprogramme my brain from wanting things RIGHT NOW. This is not just for sewing but for other things in life too. I am beginning to find contentment in process as well as result.

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Time sewing for myself is limited as I’m sure it is for others too, but as well as wanting quick results I’d also rather have something that I know will work for me, is what I want to wear and fits in with my life.

So overall, and in my humble opinion, I think a toile is probably worth doing.

After all if something is worth doing it is worth doing well.

Happy toile making

Jules