Skip to content

May Martin’s Sewing Bible – Review

September 18, 2014

Last week HarperCollins Publishers sent me a copy of May Martin’s Sewing Bible to review.  May Martin, judge on BBC2’s The Great British Sewing Bee (alongside the delectable Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant), has been teaching in the textile business for over 40 years, and her new book aims to share with the reader ’40 years of tips and tricks on how to make your own fashion, home furnishings and crafts’.

MMSB

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book given the plethora of sewing books there are these days, but I was pleasantly surprised by its quality.  Released on 28th August 2014, I can see that booksellers will be promoting this hardback for Christmas, and rightly so, for this is an in-depth and impressive reference book that I think would be useful to anyone interested in sewing, whether they are beginner sewers or more advanced.

In the introduction, May discusses the wonderful bond between people that a shared hobby and skill such as sewing can create.  We have seen it through blogging, through social media, through meet-ups – she has seen it through teaching and through The Great British Sewing Bee (and no doubt in other ways, too).  She talks about how the ‘tips and tricks’ in the book are borne of 40 years’ experience, both personal and professional, and especially through teaching.  She says she has learnt from her pupils – and being able to say that is the sign of a good teacher.  Teaching is not just imparting knowledge; it’s helping, sharing, learning more, reflecting, being challenged and constantly improving.

The ‘Tips and Tricks’ section only spans about a third of the book; the rest is devoted to specific projects.  However, these pages are among the most useful I have encountered in a book such as this.  The breadth of focus is impressive, and whilst not every aspect is fully in-depth (how could it be? – the book has to draw the line somewhere), the basics are definitely covered.

The projects are organised into sections: home furnishings, accessories, adults’ fashion and kids’ fashion.  The one strange thing about this book, though, and possibly its downfall, is that some projects are based on pre-existing sewing patterns that are for sale – patterns by McCall’s, Butterick, Vogue and Kwik Sew.  I suppose May Martin is a teacher and not a pattern cutter, but I still find it strange and disappointing that the projects are not all available within the book, or at the very least, downloadable.  It means if you want to make these particular projects then you will need to find the pattern and buy it.  Other, similar sewing books have set the precedent for the inclusion of patterns within the book, and it is not obvious from leafing through the book that not all patterns are included, so I think this will be an unexpected (and unwelcome) feature.  I presume that May’s instructions are more in-depth than those that come with the patterns themselves, and that they are presented differently with photography and additional diagrams – but I cannot attest to these facts as I don’t own any of the patterns and so I cannot compare.

May states ‘My aim has been to try to bring them [the sewing patterns] alive by focusing on particular techniques […] which you can use again and again on other projects, building your skills all the time’.  I can understand her reasoning, but I have to say that when these techniques are not available to practise in the context in which they are being presented, the learning opportunity is wasted.  In Tilly Walnes’ book ‘Love at First Stitch’, published earlier this year and reviewed here, the principle is the same in that you learn techniques within the context of a specific project, but the added bonus of Tilly’s book is that the project patterns are included within the book.

The look of the book is clean, fresh and modern.  Thankfully, it doesn’t fall into the sickly-sweet everything-floral-all-the-pastel-colours trap.  The photography is nicely styled yet unpretentious.  I love the pattern paper prints and vintage pattern prints which are interspersed throughout the book.

The book is well written, well organised and the tone is professional and not patronising.  The only nit-picking thing I would say is regarding the project for a ‘Man’s Apron’…you know what I’m going to say, don’t you?!  Why does it have to be for a man?!  It’s an apron!  It’s unisex!

I would definitely recommend this book for a Christmas gift or for your Christmas list.  The publication date is canny in its timing and the projects for a table runner, napkins, napkin rings, placemats, decorations and stockings would all be fantastic to make in time for the festive season.

Thanks to HarperCollins for providing the review copy, which I am going to add to my ever-growing collection of sewing books.

My first White Tree Fabrics make – The Red Lace Dress

September 10, 2014

I am pleased to finally be showing you my first project made for the White Tree Fabrics blogger network.  I say ‘finally’ because this dress has taken a very long time to plan and make.  I first ordered the samples mid-June!  The actual sewing spanned three weeks, which is extremely long by my standards.

The Red Lace Dress - Front and Back view

The Red Lace Dress – Front and Back view

White Tree Fabrics have an amazing range of ‘fancy fabrics’ – particularly lace.  I knew that I wanted to make a lace dress – in fact, I’ve been wanting to make one for about four years!  As I have limited experience of working with lace, I ordered a large selection of samples of the different types of lace so that I could see how they differ in appearance and feel.  I also ordered samples of duchess satin, lightweight satin and organdie to see how well they might complement the lace.  All of these samples I ordered in red, my favourite colour.

I chose a combination which I was pretty sure I liked (heavy corded lace, duchess satin and lightweight satin), but I had a last-minute change of heart and thought it might be better for me to make a green lace dress instead.  So I asked for more samples to be sent out, this time in green, but when they arrived I couldn’t get the right combination of greens so it was back to plan A, and I was finally ready to order!

I knew from the start that I was going to use Simplicity Amazing Fit 1606 for my pattern.  I have adored wearing my blue and white halter neck version, and the pattern includes a variation specifically designed for a dress with a lace overlay.  However, I wanted to use the scallop edge of the lace for the hem of the skirt, which meant I wouldn’t be able to use the skirt pattern for this dress – instead I needed something with a straight hem.  Looking through my patterns I came across New Look 6143, which also includes a variation for a lace overlay dress and the skirt is pleated rather than circular.  The hemline wasn’t 100% straight, but I could just about get away with it as the curve was very slight.

I set about cutting into my lace fabric, which I’ll admit I was too terrified to prewash in case I ruined it, so this dress will have to be dry clean only!  I had to cut it all on the crosswise grain, so that my hemline could be the scalloped edge of the lace.  If you ever want to cut through corded lace, you will need really sharp and sturdy shears.  I had a brand new pair (with red handles, yay!), and I was glad of them but it was still tough-going.  Perhaps a rotary cutter with a cutting board would be a better option for corded lace?

My next challenge was – how on earth do I transfer the pattern markings to the lace?  Notches weren’t going to show and I couldn’t draw on it… it had to be tailor tacks.  Gah I hate tailor tacks.  They take forever and they feel messy and fussy.  Still, it seemed like the only way to mark the darts properly.

Now, call me a fool because it was only at this point, after having cut the lace, that I gave consideration to seam finishes.  I guess I had just presumed I’d do French seams where possible, but when I practised with some scraps it didn’t look great.  Because the lace has such an open weave you could see the seam from the outside, and the French seam was particularly noticeable because of the number of layers of fabric in the seam.

I searched the internet for advice on how to seam lace, and came across a technique called ‘applique seams’.  Oh my word!  Basically applique seams are where you match up the lace motifs and overlap them exactly, and stitch one on top of the other with a zigzag stitch and then carefully trim around the motifs to create an invisible seam.  This discovery threw me into a total panic because I had already cut my lace out with the standard seam allowance, rather than a whole load of extra for matching-up and overlapping exactly.  However, I started to calm down when I realised that the lace I was working with didn’t have a series of isolated motifs, instead it was a continuous pattern with continuous cording, and therefore applique seams would not be ‘applicable’ (haha) in this case.  Phew!

I still had to decide on a seam finish, though.  After trying a few different options, I settled for simply pressing apart and trimming and leaving it at that.  The lace doesn’t fray, and any other seam finish was too visible.  This is a special occasion dress, so I knew I didn’t need to worry about the seam finishes being super-robust for everyday wear and repeated washing.

The next tricky part was the actual sewing.  Sewing over the cords meant that the line of stitching wasn’t 100% straight; where the needle hit the corded bits it went a little wonky (demonstrated below with white stitching on a scrap).  I adjusted the stitch length to a slightly longer stitch and decided to just wing it… after all it was only irregular in extreme close-up and it wasn’t going to affect the bigger picture.

Top left: Fabrics which arrived beautifully packaged. Top right: Sample line of stitching over the cords. Centre: Chevron effect of the lace (double layer) Bottom left: Marking darts with tailor tacks Bottom right: Princess seams of the bodice overlay.

Top left: Fabrics which arrived beautifully packaged.
Top right: Sample line of stitching over the cords.
Centre: Chevron effect of the lace (double layer)
Bottom left: Marking darts with tailor tacks and glass headed pins
Bottom right: Princess seams of the bodice overlay.

Once I’d gotten over these initial hurdles, sewing the dress was straightforward for a little while.  I got my lace bodice overlay sewn up easily, and then made the strapless bodice underneath with the duchess satin, lined with lightweight satin and boned with black rigilene boning from Boyes.  I then started on the skirt, which has 8 box pleats.  The New Look pattern didn’t advise to sew the pleats in the overlay and the skirt together as one, but instead to do each separately.  I followed the instructions but I should have trusted my instincts and sewn them together so that the overlay and skirt hung together perfectly.  When I had made the skirt and the overlay, I attached them to the dress…and hated it.

Left: Strapless, boned satin bodice Right: Satin pleated skirt with lace pleated overlay

Left: Strapless, boned satin bodice
Right: Satin pleated skirt with lace pleated overlay

It wasn’t hanging correctly at all due to the pleats in the overlay sitting on top of the pleats in the satin.  In addition to this, the satin is so thick and ‘springy’ that it didn’t respond well to being pleated, and stuck out in a rather unflattering manner.  I was crestfallen and wasn’t sure what to do.  My options were to

  1. stick with it but be unhappy – but I couldn’t go with this option.  This dress is supposed to be a testament to my sewing and something very special that I feel proud to wear.  How could I wear it if I was unhappy with it?
  2. scrap the skirt and make a new one with extra fabric – the thrifty part of my brain wouldn’t allow me to do this.  Wasting that amount of lace and satin would be a sin.
  3. unpick the pleats in both skirts and try sewing them together as one or
  4. unpick the pleats in both skirts and gather them instead

So it was either C or D, and let me tell you I’d had enough of pleats after sewing 16 of them, so I opted for gathering, and if it wasn’t going to work out then I’d have to fall back on option B – eek!

Unpicking the waist seam and then the pleats in the lace took FOREVER.  The thread was the exact same colour, I thought I might go blind trying to see every stitch and distinguish it from the lace.  The weave of the lace was so open that I had to unpick each individual stitch.  I couldn’t rip out a few at a time or I risked tearing the lace.  Eventually I managed it and miraculously I managed to retain my sight and not tear the lace.  Whoop!

The next stage was to gather the waistline – straightforward, right?  Erm NO.  I sewed my two gathering lines and realised that the second one had accidentally crossed over the first in a careless mid-sewing swerve, so before I could even begin I had to unpick that line of stitches and redo it.  Once I had done that I set about pulling the threads to gather them only to find that the stitches weren’t long enough and the threads snapped!  I’d used a stitch length of 4 but it wasn’t enough!  So I had to start AGAIN.  This time I used a stitch length of 5 and thankfully it worked.

I used bias binding to bind the skirt and bodice seams together to make the waistline nice and neat on the inside.  I had used French seams for the side seams of the satin skirt and when I hemmed it, I used a bias binding facing hand sewn into place.  Both the overlay and the satin skirt are sewn together at the centre back zip because of the zip.  Here’s a close-up photo of some of the insides.

Left: French seamed satin skirt Top right: Bias bound waistline Bottom right: Bias bound hem on the satin skirt

Left: French seamed satin skirt
Top right: Bias bound waistline
Bottom right: Bias bound hem on the satin skirt

I had quite a bit of bother with the zip.  I ordered a ‘transparent’ concealed zip – the only type of zip available from White Tree Fabrics – designed to be ‘transparent’ so that you can use it with any fabric.  You’ll note the quotation marks I have employed because the zip is not so much ‘transparent’ as just…white.  As you sewists will know, it’s always tricky inserting an invisible zip especially if you have a bulky waistband to get past, and with the lace overlay added into the equation it did not go well!  The zip was showing and it was showing white.  To make matters worse, when I then tried on the garment, the zip pull got stuck at the bulky bit (despite me having snipped the corners to try to eliminate the bulk) and it wouldn’t move.  I had to unpick it and go and buy a standard dress red dress zip for the job!  I did a centred zip in the end, and the bulkiness of the seams means it stands out a bit, but I can live with it.  Especially when the alternative is to unpick it AGAIN and re-insert!

The Red Lace Dress - inside - front and back

The Red Lace Dress – inside – front and back

I haven’t worn the dress yet as I am saving it for a dear friend’s wedding in October.  Obviously I had to try it on for a few quick photos though, to give you an idea of what it looks like on!

I couldn't choose just one photo...soz

I couldn’t choose just one photo…soz

I’m pleased with how it looks from the front, and from the side.

Three side views is probably sufficient...

Three side views is probably sufficient…

The back has a few issues – a bit of gaping in the upper back of the lace overlay.  On the dressmaker’s dummy if the top of the neckline sits high, it reduces the gape, but it doesn’t want to sit high when I’m actually wearing it.  What I’m going to do is to trim the neckline down a little lower to get rid of the excess from the top, and then re-finish the edges, and make a new button loop.  But that can wait until nearer to the wedding!

The back

The back

Talking of button loops, this was my first ever go at it and I was pleased with how it turned out and relieved it was easy to do.  I had to consult my 1972 Singer Sewing Book for instructions on how to do it!  Here’s a photo of the loop and also the blind hem I hand-sewed on the satin.  You guys know how much I hate hand-sewing so this deserves another photo:

My first button loop whoop!  And hand-stitched blind hem.

My first button loop whoop! And hand-stitched blind hem.

If you’re still reading, congratulations on making it through such a long post and please accept my apologies: this dress took such a long time to get right and a lot of effort went into it so I like to give a full report!

I’m looking forward to wearing this to my friend’s wedding (once I’ve sorted the back gape).  Thanks to White Tree Fabrics for providing the fabric!  My next project with them is going to be super simple!

My August Minerva Make – Skulls ‘n’ Roses Dress

August 26, 2014

This month I wanted to try something a little bit different, just for kicks.  I picked a dress pattern in a style I wouldn’t normally go for, and a fabric I wouldn’t normally go for.

The dress pattern is Cynthia Rowley for Simplicity 1607:

Cynthia Rowley 1607 Envelope Front

Cynthia Rowley 1607 Envelope Front

I would say that this dress is unusual for most people due to its quirky strap placement, but for me it was also a choice outside of my normal comfort zone because it’s fitted right down to just above the hips.  I’m a pear shape and my belly isn’t exactly washboard flat, so usually I wear things that flare out at the natural waist.  But like I said, I fancied a change.

A close-up of the print

A close-up of the print

The fabric is a ‘Gothic Skulls’ print.  Novelty print fabrics are not at all unusual for me, but there are two things about it that would normally put me off: First, it’s a pale background print.  I avoid these as much as possible because I won’t be able to layer up with tights in the winter.  Second, it’s a polycotton blend.  I have no problem with plain polycottons, but I find polycotton prints fade really badly after multiple washes.  But!  I saw this print and thought it would be fun for a summer dress with crazy straps.  It was all coming together in an 80s New Romantic kinda way (minus the androgyny).  If I still had my DMs I’d have worn them for the photos.

Cynthia Rowley 1607

Cynthia Rowley 1607

I chose an ivory polycotton to line the dress with.  I only envisaged lining the bodice, but in the end I fully lined the dress and had buy an extra metre of fabric.  Unfortunately I bought white rather than the ivory, but as it’s on the inside it doesn’t matter too much I guess!

Fully lined!

Fully lined!

I made a toile of the bodice, midriff and yoke, and made a minor adjustment of sewing the side seams at 3/8″ instead of 5/8″ as it was pretty tight-fitting!  Once I had adjusted the toile, I used it as my lining.

The toile

The toile

I didn’t toile the straps, and I’m glad I didn’t because to sew them twice would have been soul destroying!  Even though I had everything labelled, it took me a good few hours just to work the straps out and sew them.

Simples!

Simples!

The finished dress is still a bit snug, if I’m honest.  There are wrinkles and the fabric rides up a bit over my hips.  But hey, I’ve seen worse, and it isn’t uncomfortably tight, and I’m totally going to wear this to my friend’s hen party on Friday night.

Tada!

Tada!  This is me with NO MAKE UP ON.

It took me a while to figure out what bra I could wear under this.  In the majority of photos I’m not even wearing one, but it felt a bit porno to be honest.  I eventually worked out that my multiway bra works with the straps crossed over at the front but normal at the back.  Feels a bit strange but it seems to work!

The back!

The back!

The straps do shift around quite a bit when wearing this dress, and when they move out of position they look a bit odd.  I’ll probably end up continually readjusting them!  I’d like to try the other version of this dress which has a more simple strap formation.  I like the skirt a lot, even though I thought I wouldn’t be comfortable with the fitted yoke over the stomach and hips.

New dress SQUEE

New dress SQUEE

Thanks to Minerva for the fabric, lining, zip and pattern!

Blog Hop!

August 18, 2014

I’m very flattered to tell you that I was nominated by Amy of Barmy Beetroot to take part in the Blog Hop that has been doing the rounds recently.  Thank you, Amy!  I met Amy on a mini meet-up in Leeds recently and we got on really well.  Anyone who shows you her knickers within five minutes of meeting you is a kindred spirit, right?!  (She had sewn them, of course).

If you haven’t already read about it, the Blog Hop was brought about simply to draw attention to a variety of blogs, and to maybe introduce readers of one blog to another that they may not have heard of.  The Blog Hop also gives bloggers themselves an opportunity to write about their writing – META!  I have found it very interesting to read what other bloggers have had to say, because I’m nosy like that, and it’s interesting to learn more about people’s perspective on their own blog.

Bloggers taking part in the Blog Hop are required to answer four questions, and to nominate two other bloggers whose blogs they enjoy reading.  I’ve chosen to nominate the following two bloggers:

Annika of Naeh-Connection

It won’t be the first time you’ve heard me mention this lovely lady on my blog as she was my Spring Sewing partner earlier this year.  As soon as I started reading Annika’s blog I was drawn to the beautiful photography, and let’s face it, the cuteness of her children!  I was also impressed by her skill and productivity – she must sew ALL. THE. TIME.  And the things she makes are gorgeous.  Also, she blogs in both German and English, which is impressive (and useful to a non-German speaker!).  So, if you haven’t already, go and check out her blog, and stay tuned because next week you’ll be able to get an insight into her writing and blogging procedure.

Lynne of Ozzy Blackbeard

Lynne – a red-haired lady of beautiful dresses, fan of colourful prints, and maker of beautiful garments…can you tell why I enjoy reading her blog?!  We share a mutual love for the Belladone dress: I included her in my inspiration post after she had made two, then the dress I made inspired her next version!  Excellent blog-based reciprocity!  Lynne not only sews, but knits and crochets too!  I admire that.  I dabble in both but never really get anywhere because ultimately I’m better at sewing.  Lynne also takes the time to comment frequently on my posts, and I always appreciate that.  I’m looking forward to reading what Lynne has to say about blogging, and to seeing who she nominates!

Now – onto the questions!

Why do I write?

I’m going to start by quoting directly from Amy of Almond Rock, who said:

I need this blog to prove to myself and to some degree the world that I have dedication and commitment to sewing, that my sewing skills and the quality of my projects are improving, and to create visible proof that I’m doing something I’m proud to share with others.

YES.  What she said.  I couldn’t have put it better myself.

I would also add to Amy’s answer that I can be a bit of a perfectionist, and I like to show that I have done something to the best of my ability.  If I’ve made a toile, I’ll be photographing it.  If I’ve made adjustments, I’ll be explaining them.  When (not if) the insides of my garment are beautifully finished, I’ll be showing you. If I pattern-match, I’ll be pointing that out to you.  I don’t just churn out projects one after the other – I take my time with them, and I want to share that with the very people who take an interest in these things – you readers!  There’s no point in me showing off my seam finishes to my next door neighbour – they don’t appreciate the care or the time it has taken.

However, I do sometimes feel a bit disillusioned with blogging, and when I’m feeling low and being hard on myself I berate myself for ‘showing off’.  Yes, I can sew, yes, I do it well.  So what?  I have friends who work in mental health services, and they do it well.  They do it extremely well.  They’re talented, hard-working and generally amazing, but they don’t feel the need to publicise it.  We can all do something well.  We all have interests.  What this blog says about me is that I need approval and recognition.  Is that selfish?  Am I too self-absorbed?  An attention seeker?  Perhaps I am.  I frequently chastise myself for being all ‘Oh look at me!  Aren’t I clever?  Tell me you agree!  Admire me and pay me compliments!’.  I don’t know… maybe this is just something that comes within the broader territory of art.  Art is made to be admired, right?

Then again, you could also argue that the biggest admirer of my blog is me, and most likely I am its most frequent reader.  I blog to have a record of what I’ve done and to feel proud of my achievements.  Ultimately I know that no one else gives a flying fuck if I’ve done French seams!  I did them for ME!  Yes, I can publicise it, and of course I love getting compliments (I’m only human, after all), but it doesn’t change the fact that the person I am trying to please the most is myself.  I’m my own taskmaster, slave driver and the harshest judge.  I set the standards.  And then I blog them.

What am I working on?

I’m currently finishing off my Minerva make for August, which is a total break from my normal style in terms of both pattern and print.  I currently have no idea if I will love it or hate it, but obviously I’m hoping for the former.  I thought it would be fun to take a chance on something slightly different.  I mean, it’s still a dress, and it’s still a novelty print, so I guess it won’t be wildly out of place in my wardrobe!

My current WIP

My current WIP

After that I have a couple of wedding commissions to work on, and then I’ll be starting on my autumn project – a coat!

How does my blog differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure that it does in any fundamental way.  The majority of my posts are like those you would find on any other sewing blogs – you sew something, you blog it, the end.  I sometimes include cocktail recipes, just for fun ;-)

I do try to also incorporate a focus on reviews, too, particularly book reviews.  I’m passionate about books and I collect them just for the pure joy of owning them (and reading them!), but with books about sewing I like to share my opinions with my readers in the hope that they might find them interesting and useful.

One of nine bookcases in our house - this one for sewing, crafts, photography and art.

One of nine bookcases in our house – this one for sewing, crafts, photography and art.

I like to post pattern reviews, too, and reviews on equipment etc.  My review post about my Elna 2007 machine (which I no longer use) is one of the most popular posts on the site, along with a guide to fabric shopping in Paris which Aileen wrote…

…which leads me to one other aspect of this blog which differs from others: this is a co-authored blog!  Thread Carefully started out as a joint blog between me and my friend Aileen, whose nom-de-plume or ‘psewdonymn’ was ‘Julia D Bennett’.  Aileen hasn’t blogged for quite some time, but she still sews and you may have met her at various meet-ups.  Obviously I post regularly and keep up with the day-today maintenance of Thread Carefully, but it is still very much a joint blog as far as I am concerned.

How does my writing process work?

I just click on ‘Add New Post’ and type whatever comes into my head.  Hahaha, not really.  I guess it depends on the type of post.

If it’s a garment reveal, I’ll normally talk about the pattern, the toile, the adjustments, the fabric and the final garment, and I’ll include a variety of photos to capture the finished garment from different angles, and often with close ups of particular things I’m proud of…such as the insides!

If it’s a book review, I’ll make notes as I read the book, and then try to organise the notes and incorporate them into a logical review structure, and answer questions such as: what is the book’s focus, what are its contents, is it visually appealing, is it useful, does it achieve its objectives, is it useful to borrow or buy, who is the book aimed at etc.  I’ll include quotations from the book to illustrate certain points I want to make, and of course I’ll intersperse relevant photographs to break up the text.

Photography is really important to my blog – really to any blog about sewing.  I think on the whole my photos are acceptable.  I try to get my photos taken outside in natural light (preferably sunshine!), or else take them in the sewing room which is bright and airy and white.  I take all my photos with my phone; when I chose my new phone the camera specifications were amongst my top priorities.  I would love to own a proper camera, but it’s cost-prohibitive at the moment, and time-consuming, too.  I have a compact camera but I have found it added so much more time to the blogging process when I had to download the photos to my computer before uploading them to my blog.

Some recent sewing-themed purchases!

Some recent sewing-themed purchases!

That’s all for now, folks!  Be sure to check out Annika’s and Lynne’s blog next Monday when they’ll be answering the same questions and nominating two of their favourite bloggers!

The Overlocker Technique Manual by Julia Hincks – Review

August 10, 2014

This is the third of the books that Search Press sent to me for review purposes.  I chose to review it because although more and more home sewists are investing in overlockers (or ‘sergers’), it seems to me that they are often perceived as ‘scary’ machines – so I thought this book might appeal!

The Overlocker Technique Manual

The Overlocker Technique Manual

I bought my overlocker in 2011 and it probably wasn’t until last year that I actually nailed how to rethread the thing quickly.  To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t the threading that was an issue: although a bit fiddly, I can do that bit in a couple of minutes.  No, it was getting the tension of all the threads right that took hours.  It became like a jackpot – sometimes I would rethread and it would be fine straight away, and other times I would fiddle about for hours.  One day last year, out of pure frustration, whilst feeding my test scraps of fabric through and trying to get the right tension, I manually pulled each of the four threads in turn as they were feeding through, making the tension incredibly tight for a short time and then letting go and letting it feed through normally.  For some unknown reason, it worked a treat, and this is what I do each time now if it isn’t working properly.

So, it took me two years to be able to confidently rethread my machine.  I knew my machine had uses other than finishing raw edges and sewing knits, but until a few weeks ago when I sat down in front of the overlocker with this book at hand, I hadn’t experimented at all.  Why?  I suppose time was a factor.  Who wants to spend hours on end faffing around with an overlocker?  I could make a dress in that time!  But this book review was the incentive I needed to get down to business – how could I review a book properly without putting it to the test?

Readers – I gave this book a thorough test.  I worked my way through this book in maybe 5 or 6 hours, starting right at the beginning and working through in order.  As I began to work through the book, my main question for the purposes of this review was: how is this book different to my instruction manual?  After all, there is no value in buying a book that is the same as the overlocker’s manual (unless, of course, you don’t have the manual for your machine).

The book is divided into three chapters: ‘Overlocking Basics’, ‘Techniques’ and ‘Quick Constructions’.  Working in conjunction with this book and my overlocker instruction manual, I familiarised myself with what each bit of the overlocker is called and what it is/can be used for.  Some of this I already knew, but I did learn some new things and as a result of the exercise I now have quite a thorough understanding of the machine.

In the three years of owning my overlocker, only once have I changed the differential feed – I did this to help gather up the hem of a circle skirt.  The book taught me that when the differential feed is a higher number than ‘N’ (normal), the front teeth of the feed dog move more quickly than the back teeth, and this creates gathering.  When the differential feed is lower than ‘N’, the front teeth move more slowly than the back teeth, to create a stretch effect (depending upon the fabric type, of course).

One thing that I had always found confusing in my overlocker manual was something it referred to as ‘size of bight’, and elsewhere in the manual ‘width of bite’.  This ‘bight’/’bite': I had no idea what it was – only that I could widen it if I wanted.  But the book taught me that it’s the cutting width – perhaps this ‘bight’/’bite’ is a translation error in my manual or something?  Either way, I’m glad to have finally got that information straight!

Under the guidance of this book, I learnt how to retract the upper knife, how to adjust the stitch width, and how to remove the stitch finger.  This enabled me to stitch a teeny tiny rolled hem!  I’m so pleased I learnt how to do this, I can definitely see me using this function a lot.

Overlocker rolled hem!

Overlocker rolled hem!

I also learnt how to make pin-tucks on the overlocker, French seams, welt seams and fell seams.  I would never have considered using my overlocker before for any of these seam finishes.  It isn’t exactly rocket science, but it was good to learn some alternative methods.

How to sew a French seam on your overlocker

How to sew a French seam on your overlocker

The book tells you how to use a variety of different attachments, such as elastic and beading attachments and piping, blind-hemming, gathering, bias binding, taping and cording feet.  My machine only has one foot, but this foot doubles up as a cording foot due to the small hole in the top of the foot through which one can feed cord.  With the help of the book I learnt how to overlock over a piece of cord or yarn (for decorative purposes), and how to overlock over stabilising tape, which will be useful when constructing seams of knit garments that need extra stabilisation, such as shoulder seams and waist seams.  I didn’t have any clear elastic to practise with, but I imagine that would work on the same principle as the seam tape.

Applying (white) stabilising tape to a seam with the overlocker.

Applying stabilising tape to a seam with the overlocker.

So far so good.  The techniques section of this book really did enable me to get to grips with my machine.  I learnt new techniques that I will definitely use again, and these techniques were explained in a much clearer way than in my manual, and with clear photographs too.

The ‘Quick Constructions’ section is comprised of a series of simple projects in which you can test out your newly acquired overlocking skills.  The projects are basic, and nothing to write home about.  The chapter does finish with a ‘Guide to Fabrics’ section though – giving guidance on different fabrics and what size needles they would be best paired with, what differential feed to use, what stitch length is best, suggested tension settings and tips on hemming techniques.  These four pages are very, very useful.

The biggest disappointment of this book was that there was no mention of the care and maintenance of your overlocker – for instance how (and where) to oil it, how to remove the needle plate and clean the feed dogs, how to change the bulb, the blades etc.  After all the time I spent learning about how to use the machine, I felt so invested in it that I was willing to spend another hour giving it a mini home-service, but the book doesn’t touch on this at all, which I think is a great shame.  I may have learnt a lot about the functionality of the machine, but I’m still a bit nervous about taking it to pieces to clean it properly!  Boo!

One other, small, gripe: it suggests overlocking with different types of thread to achieve different effects, for example using thread that changes colour, metallic thread, woolly nylon, embroidery thread, even yarn…which is all very well and good if these are wound onto a bobbin, but when I attempted to use some metallic pearl cotton from a skein, I was left wondering how on earth to wind it suitably and place it securely onto the bobbin holder??

Overall, this is a good book to have.  I’ve learnt a lot from it and, although it is not tailored specifically to my exact model of machine, it has been a lot more useful than the manual itself has ever been.  I would recommend the book to people who have overlockers with no manual, or to people who want to get more from their machines and try new techniques.

Roald Dahl ‘Lickswishy Sweets’ dresses!!!

August 4, 2014

Remember a while back I made some Matilda cushion covers?  Since then I’ve been eyeing up some of the other amazing Roald Dahl fabrics, and I decided to get some of the Lickswishy Sweets fabric, this time to make a dress!  I’ve never ordered from Plush Addict before, but I have to say I was really impressed by their range of fabrics, the delivery time etc and they even have a loyalty scheme so you can collect ‘Plush Points’ when you spend with them!  That’s the first time I’ve heard of such a scheme with a fabric retailer.  Plus, they sent me some sweeties with my fabrics.  I’m not sure if that’s because I ordered sweets fabric or if it’s just a thing they do with every order, but it made me smile.

Although the Roald Dahl fabric is described as home décor weight, having used the Matilda fabric before I knew it would be fine with the right dress pattern.  It’s 100% cotton, so even though it’s thicker than your average dress fabric, it’s still nice and soft and breathable.  I picked up a copy of the By Hand London Flora dress pattern a few months ago, and decided to use this with the Lickswishy Sweets fabric because it was the right width and in fact the fabric recommendations on the pattern mention that it is suitable for upholstery fabric!  Winner!

I really wanted to make the wrap version of the Flora dress, but when I made a toile of the wrap bodice, and it was all wrong.  It was too big under the arms, across the high bust and at the side seams, but somehow it sort of fit the bust, but gaped at the front and was baggy under the bust.  Now, I’m definitely not averse to a bit of alteration – or even redrafting – but I seriously had no idea where to start with this.  It doesn’t even look that bad on the photo, but trust me, it wasn’t wearable!  Good job I made a toile, eh?!

First toile - wrap bodice

First toile – wrap bodice

I decided that currently I hadn’t the patience to try to figure out how to make it fit ok.  I wanted that sweets dress asap!  So I toiled up the tank bodice version of the pattern instead.  This version fit a lot better with exception of some under-boob bagginess.  I pinned out the excess, drew on my toile where I had pinned, unpinned it and then transferred the markings to my pattern piece.  Finally I was ready to cut into the fabric!

Second toile with alterations drawn on

Second toile with alterations drawn on

The alteration transferred to my paper pattern

The alteration transferred to my paper pattern

I lined my dress with some plain white cotton.  I had a 40cm remnant that was just enough to line the bodice.  I didn’t have any zips to match, but what does that matter when you use concealed zips?  The whole point of them is that they are meant to be invisible.  I used a royal blue zip, and the only bit of it you can see is the pull at its top.

Invisible zip

Invisible zip

As regards the hem, I liked the idea of the dipped hem for a change, but didn’t like how short it came up at the front, so I traced the straight front piece and the dipped back, and I love how it has turned out!

By Hand London Flora dress - side view

By Hand London Flora dress – side view

Still a ‘mullet hem’, but less exaggerated and slightly more…demure?!  I finished the hem with a bias binding facing, topstitched into place.

Altered dipped hem with bias binding facing

Altered dipped hem with bias binding facing

Now…I should also mention at this point that my daughter was seriously jonesing for this fabric.  She had seen it when I ordered it online, she came with me to collect the parcel from the post office, she watched me open the parcel, she saw the fabric drying on the line after its pre-wash…and at every step along the way she asked me to make her a dress with the fabric.  I felt like the cruellest mother in the world when I said “No, this fabric is to make myself a dress”…so I added “I’m sure there will be some fabric left over to make something for you”… Well, luckily the tank bodice doesn’t use up much fabric at all, so although I only ordered 3m of this fabric, I was able to get us both a dress out of it.  Yes, that’s right, I made us matching dresses!

Matching Mother-Daughter dresses!

Matching Mother-Daughter dresses!

For her dress I used New Look 6205, which is what I am using for her flower girl’s dress and the same pattern I used for her yellow polka dot georgette dress.

Wheeeeeeeeeee!

Wheeeeeeeeeee!

I added rick rack to the neck line, a ribbon waistband secured at the side seams and sewn into the centre back, and a ribbon hem facing on the outside of the dress.  Little Tweedie’s dress is lined with red cotton I had in my stash.

I accessorised my dress with a red sash I made ages ago, to better co-ordinate with Little Tweedie

I accessorised my dress with a red sash I made ages ago, to better co-ordinate with Little Tweedie

I declared to Aileen that I would never go out in public with us both wearing our dresses, but it was too good a photo opportunity to miss.  I did it for you guys, you know.  For the blog.

Ice creams!

Ice creams!

I’d be interested to know what your opinion is on matching mother-daughter clothing.  I’m cringing inside and rolling my eyes at myself.  I LOVE Little Tweedie’s dress (and mine), but wearing them at the same time makes me feel like a total muppet.  Like it’s so unbearably cutesy and twee.  Like people might actually vomit at the sight of it.

Hahahahahahaha

Hahahahahahaha.  Check out my amazing sunglasses though.

Anyway, we wore them together for these photos and that will be the last time.  Probably.

Matchy matchy

Matchy matchy

So there you have it: two dresses for the price of one!  And most importantly, a very happy Little Tweedie!

Yellow polka dot dress of awesome

July 29, 2014

Here is my first bash at New Look 6205 for my daughter, made with yellow and white polka dot georgette, yellow crystal organza and white cotton lining:

New Look 6205

New Look 6205

I apologise in advance because I’m going to totally bombard you with photos.

New Look 6205 - side view

New Look 6205 – side view

The georgette, the zip and the thread is from Annika at Naeh Connection who was my Spring Sewing Swap partner – thank you Annika – with your help I’ve been able to make a really special dress!

New Look 6205 - back view

New Look 6205 – back view

I stabilised the zip opening with strips of iron-on interfacing before sewing the zip in because the georgette is such a delicate fabric.  It’s also very sheer so you can see the seams but I don’t think this could have been avoided, really.  I used French seams where I could and fully lined the dress with white cotton.

New Look 6205 - fully lined

New Look 6205 – fully lined

I also added an extra layer of lining into the skirt, using yellow crystal organza.  It gives it a very subtle shimmer in electric light, and adds a bit of body to the dress, and in general it just makes it feel more fancy and dressed up.

The layers of the skirt from underneath

The layers of the skirt from underneath

I hemmed the organza and the georgette using the rolled hem function on my overlocker, and did a narrow hem on the cotton lining.  I love how the three layers look together.  They don’t show from the outside, but occasionally you can get a peek of them:

Most cheesy grin EVER

Most cheesy grin EVER

This dress is actually a wearable toile of a dress I will be making for my daughter to be flower girl at her aunt’s wedding in a few weeks.  That dress will be made with ivory crepe-backed satin, lined with a standard poly satin lining and it will have a couple of layers of tulle as underlining to the main fabric.

A peek at the underskirts!

A peek at the underskirts!

In the meantime Little Tweedie needs an occasion to wear this dress.  It is too fancy for everyday wear, and it is very summery.  The georgette creases very easily, so preferably she wouldn’t wear it to travel in the car.  Although, she’d look just as gorgeous with a crumpled dress!

I curled her hair for these photos - doesn't it look pretty?!  About an hour afterwards it was completely straight again though!

I curled her hair for these photos – doesn’t it look pretty?! About an hour afterwards it was completely straight again though!

I’m so pleased with the dress and I love the fit on her.  It’s quite an elegant shape.

<=3

<=3

What do you think?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 499 other followers

%d bloggers like this: