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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.



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.  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.



What do you think?

My July Minerva Make – Retro Audrey Dress

July 22, 2014

My dress for the Minerva Blogger Network this month has a definite vintage feel to it.  I used the vintage-inspired Eliza M Audrey Dress pattern which Claire, the lady behind Eliza M and Simple Sew patterns, gave to me for review purposes.  I teamed the pattern with some of Minerva’s delightful designer cotton lawn in a retro print.  I think it’s a good pairing!  (Coincidentally, Minerva now stocks Eliza M patterns, which is brilliant).

Eliza M Audrey Dress

Eliza M Audrey Dress

The cotton lawn was amazing to work with.  It feels so soft, it is light and drapes quite well for a cotton, and it behaves itself in that it doesn’t seem to stretch or warp.  The print is awesome, obviously (I’m easily won over by novelty).  Best of all, the fabric is 60” wide, which means you don’t need very much of it at all to make a dress.  This dress has a full circle skirt but I used less than 2 metres of fabric.  Winner.


I really love the design of the Audrey dress – the low V back especially.  It isn’t lined: the neck and armholes are finished with a facing, which I like because it keeps the cost down and it’s easy to make.  I actually used a plain black cotton for the facings, in order to try and preserve as much of the main fabric as possible.  By doing this I was able to make the dress in a size 14 out of 1m65 of main fabric and 35cm of plain cotton for the facings.


The print of the fabric is two-way, so at the side seams of the circle skirt, the print is running horizontally, but I quite like this effect.  The only downside to squeezing a circle skirt onto 60” wide fabric was that I was unable to lengthen it as it only just fit on.  I’m quite tall at 5’10” and this dress sits a few inches above the knee – what might be termed as a ‘fun and flirty’ length when you’re no longer in your twenties!  I think I can just about get away with it with bare legs in summer, so long as I’m wearing knickers with decent bum-coverage underneath just in case the wind catches the skirt…


I overestimated the amount of ease built into the pattern, which is actually pretty true to size, so I had to make a few alterations to the pattern.  I tapered out from the armscye to the waist from 5/8” to 1/4”, and used a slightly smaller seam allowance at the centre back (3/8” instead of 5/8”).  However, I don’t think I’d cut a 16 next time as I like the fit I got with these alterations.  I would like to lengthen the bodice slightly though, which would also have the advantage of lengthening the dress overall without having to alter the skirt pattern.


I like the overall presentation of the pattern itself, although I do have a few gripes:

  • The pattern envelope is sealed at the top with gummy, sticky glue, which is messy and annoying.  It would be better for it to just fold inwards rather than be sealed in this way.
  • It doesn’t say on the pattern envelope that you need a zip for this dress, and even in the instructions sheet it doesn’t state what length of zip you need.  Luckily I knew from having made a million other dresses what I would need (a 16″ zip – I used a concealed one).
  • The tissue paper is thicker than the normal type and feels better quality and more hard-wearing, but the pattern is printed on one giant sheet of paper measuring 1m x 2.5m which is pretty difficult to handle.  I think it would be better printed on two smaller sheets for ease of handling.
  • The line-drawing for the Audrey dress is misleading – it suggests a gathered skirt rather than a circle skirt.

Other than that, the pattern is good.  I love the vintage-inspired design of the dress: the low V back and the circle skirt.  The pattern drafting is good: I like the waist darts because they are wedge-shaped which means that it comes in under the bust and fits the midriff nicely, and I like the facings which eliminate the need for a full lining but which are satisfyingly deep and definitely won’t pop out.  The overall design of the paper pattern itself is appealing, and the instructions are clear.


I think I’ve said as much as I can about the pattern: it only remains for me to say that I’m very pleased with my new dress (as always!) and want to say thank you to Eliza M patterns for providing the pattern and of course to Minerva for the fabric and the zip!

The Fabric Selector by Dana Willard – Review

July 14, 2014

‘The Fabric Selector’ by Dana Willard is the second book kindly sent to me for review by Search Press, and what a book it is!  This is a compact reference book which provides information about a vast range of different fabric types, and about different notions, tools and trimmings.

The Fabric Selector by Dana Willard

The Fabric Selector by Dana Willard

This book is so useful, and so interesting, that I cannot part with it, so there is no giveaway this time.  It’s a keeper.  It is essential for a sewing enthusiast who likes to work with a wide range of fabrics, or at least who is interested in a wide range of fabrics.  It’s a really comprehensive guide and is well suited to a sewing geek like me.  I began to flick through the book and ended up almost reading it in full – I couldn’t help but be drawn in by fascinating facts and within ten minutes I learnt so much!

Here are a few (random) things I learnt in that ten minutes.  Maybe you readers already know these particular things, but I’ll bet there’s still plenty you could learn from this book if you bought it because it is crammed full of information!

  • In the section about fasteners, ‘hook and loop’ is listed.  I wondered what this was, and found out that it is more commonly known by its trademark name, ‘Velcro’ (p190)
  • We make ‘toiles’ or ‘muslins’, but we use neither ‘toile’ (a upholstery-weight white printed fabric with red or blue images of vintage farm scenes and people) nor ‘muslin’ (a lightweight gauze).  In the UK we use ‘Calico’ – a plain woven cotton fabric, but in the US, Calico is a printed fabric with very small flowers, stars or miniature shapes (p174).  Confusing, non?
  • Challis is pronounced ‘Shall-ee’ (p92).  I have a French degree and never even realised that so I hang my head in shame.
  • There’s such a thing as ‘Seersucker Thursday': every June, US senators pay homage to the southern seersucker style by donning suits made from this lightweight summer fabric.  Known as ‘Seersucker Thursday’, the tradition started in 1966 when Senator Trent Lott from Mississippi wanted to bring some southern charm to the Senate (p44)
  • There is a difference between ‘interlock’ and ‘double knit': Interlock is a double-sided fabric but not as thick and with more stretch (p141)

The book contains close-up photos of all the different types of fabrics, but of course it does fall down in comparison to books such as ‘Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book’ by Clive Hallett (which I own) due to its lack of tangible swatches.  However, the Clive Hallett book is currently listed on Amazon for £39, whereas the RRP for this book is only £12.99, and I really think that is an absolute steal given the wealth of information it contains.

An example of one of the pages in the book.

An example of one of the pages in the book.

The ‘Selecting Fabrics’ section is split into five parts: woven fabrics, knit fabrics, speciality fabrics, blended fabrics and patterned fabrics.  Each fabric type has a photograph, a description, a list of its properties, tips for working with it and tips for caring for it (laundering etc), plus the occasional ‘Did You Know…?’ or ‘Handy Hints’ bit of information.

The ‘Notions’ section contains a wealth of information about applique, lace, trims, ribbons, buttons, fasteners, buckles, elastic, zips and thread.  The ‘Tools’ section contains information on pattern and planning tools, marking tools, measuring tools, cutting tools, sewing tools, pressing tools, machine presser feet and machine needles.

Basically, I want to conclude that this book is amazing and you all need a copy of it THIS INSTANT.  Over and out.

Cheeky giveaway – Winner!

July 11, 2014

Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway for Jiffy 1356 and Simplicity 2404, two patterns kindly sent to me by Simplicity in honour of the vintage Simplicity 8203 pattern which was used to make the dress worn in this famous photograph:

'Tennis Girl' wearing Simplicity 8203

‘Tennis Girl’ wearing Simplicity 8203

The original dress and racquet were sold at auction on Saturday 5th July 2014 for a whopping £15,500!  Unbelievable!

Anyway, to pick a winner for each pattern, I allocated each entrant a number and used a random number generator to pick for each pattern.


So, the winner of my giveaway for Jiffy 1356 is Simona!

And the winner of Simplicity 2404 is Stitched Up Sam!

Congratulations to both of you! Sam – please email me your address to  Simona – I already have your postal address!

Will you both be making a plain white, mini version of the dress do you think, to recreate the tennis girl look?!  I think I probably already know the answer to that question ;-)

Thanks again to Simplicity and to Conker Communications for providing the patterns.

Something cheeky up for grabs!

July 5, 2014

Athena Tennis Dress


I interrupt normal service to bring you pictures of bums.  I’m sure many of you will have seen the above ‘Tennis Girl’ image before, but did you know that the white tennis dress worn by the model was home-made using a Simplicity pattern?  The pattern was Simplicity 8203.

Simplicity 8203 - View 4

Simplicity 8203 – View 4

The ‘Tennis Girl’ herself was 18-year old Fiona Butler, but both the dress and the tennis racquet belonged to her friend Carol Knotts, who had made the dress for herself using the Simplicity pattern.  Fiona asked her friend if she could borrow the dress and the racquet in order to pose for the photograph, taken in 1976, by Martin Elliot, Fiona’s boyfriend at the time.  The photograph first appeared in a Silver Jubilee calendar in 1977, and then went into widespread publication in 1978, when it sold more than two million copies worldwide.  The ‘Tennis Girl’ shot has been recreated by a series of household names over the years – from pop princess Kylie Minogue…

Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue

…to Alan Carr…
Alan Carr

Alan Carr

…to Pat Cash:
Pat Cash

Pat Cash

…to Keith Lemon:
Keith Lemon

Keith Lemon

Both the dress and the racquet used in the iconic photograph are set to be auctioned today, Saturday 5th July 2014, the day of the Wimbledon women’s single championships, for a reported £1,000-£2,000 price tag.

Although the original pattern is now out of print, Simplicity have released a number of similar styles over the year, such as the simple to sew Jiffy 1356 pattern, the ‘Amazing Fit’ Simplicity 2404, and Burda’s 6918 pinafore summer dress.  Simplicity have very kindly sent me the first two of these patterns to give away to one of our readers!

Jiffy 1356

Jiffy 1356

I’m pretty intrigued by this pattern – it looks like fun to make! It’s a completely reversible wrap dress with no closures to sew.  I really like the version shown on the pattern envelope.  The copy I have been given is H5 size (US 6-14, EURO 32-40, FR 34-42).

I also have the Simplicity ‘Amazing Fit’ 2404 up for grabs.

Simplicity 2404

Simplicity 2404

Again this is size H5 (US 6-14, EURO 32-40, FR 34-42).  The pattern envelope doesn’t sell this dress too well, but look at the line drawings at the bottom and you’ll see what a lovely design it is!

If you would like to win one of the patterns, please leave me a comment below, telling me which one you like best.  Please make sure you enter your email address.  I’ll post to anyone anywhere in the world.  You’ve got just under a week to enter – until Friday 11th July at 12 noon UK time.  I’ll pick a winner at random and announce it shortly after.

If you want to recreate the ‘Tennis Girl’ look with either of these patterns, you’ll have to shorten them considerably!  Thankfully, Simplicity didn’t demand that I recreate the look in order to give away the patterns!


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