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Book Review: Lorna Knight’s ‘Overlockers and Overlocking: A Practical Guide’

June 15, 2021

In January 2021 I was sent a recently published book by Crowood Press in exchange for a review on my blog. I have had an overlocker for many years, but I’ll admit that I mainly use it for two things:

  1. to finish seam allowances of woven fabric
  2. to sew knit fabric seams

These are the two functions that are the most useful and important to me as a dressmaker. It is not an essential tool as I could finish my seams in different ways, and sew knit fabrics with a zig zag stitch on a basic sewing machine, but I like the neat finish and the speed. I have dresses I made using an overlocker ten years ago that have been washed and worn over and over again, so I know it creates a sturdy finish.

Lorna Knight’s book ‘Overlockers and Overlocking: A Practical Guide’ (2020) is a comprehensive guide to overlockers and I think it would definitely appeal to sewers who are new to this machine. However, the book serves as a useful guide to others who may already be familiar with an overlocker’s basic functions. The tone of the book is never patronising or simplistic. Knight’s friendly introduction is interesting, informative and encouraging:

In this book, using photographs and simple explanations, I hope to demystify an often maligned machine and demonstrate how it can take your creativity to a new level. By understanding how your overlocker works it will become a more useful tool and you will learn how to get the most from it. Above all, I want to share my enthusiasm and encourage everyone to have a go.

(Knight: 7)

The book is well organised. Knight begins by explaining what the overlocker is, what the different parts are, and things to consider when buying an overlocker. She also mentions related machines such as a coverstitch machine and a blind hemming machine, which I found very interesting as I have never used either but I am intrigued by both. Knight then goes over the accessories that often come with an overlocker, and what they are for, and other handy tools that may help you, from things you might have already in the house (such as using masking tape or washi tape to mark the seam allowance, or using a glass or cup to hold thread that will not sit on the spool holders), to more specialist attachments. I had not realised that you can get so many different types of presser foot attachments for the overlocker, for example you can get a ‘beading foot’ for sewing on a strip of beading: how clever is that?!

Knight moves on to the subject of threading, which overlockers are notoriously hard to do, with the heading ‘Threading up – Don’t Be Put Off!’ which is encouraging for those whose minds melt at the thought of having to thread four threads through a series of dials, clips and holders in a very specific order without getting them tangled up!

The rest of the book goes through the different stitches as you would expect, some construction techniques and hem finishes, and gives examples of different threads being used to achieve different effects. The final chapter on troubleshooting answers twenty FAQs that users might have regarding the operation of the machine and guides the reader in identifying problems and solving them.

The last 30 pages of the book are the icing on the cake: Appendix 1 focuses on how different fabrics can be handled successfully by the overlocker by adjusting settings such as the differential feed, the tension, the stitch length, needle type and thread type. Appendix 2 is an at-a-glance reference chart to help identify different stitch types and adjust the settings for each one. Following the appendices is some information regarding overlocker manufacturers and suppliers, a glossary and an index. Quite simply, Knight has thought of everything.

My only criticism of the book is that the photographs are quite small. Obviously there are limitations due to the physical size of the book (24cm x 17cm, if you’re interested!), but there are some photographs and diagrams which would merit being enlarged, especially when multiple things are being depicted. For example, on page 22 and 23, we are given an artful full page close up of a tool with a soft focus background. It doesn’t indicate what the tool is. There is then a second flat lay image of eight different tools and gadgets, numbered and accompanied by a list to identify each tool, but this image is so small that it is hard to see the tools clearly. Shame!

Overall, I think the book lives up to its title: it is indeed a practical guide that I would buy for myself or anyone with an interest in getting more use out of their overlockers. Well done Lorna Knigh, and thank you to The Crowood Press for asking me to review this book.

Dottie Angel Tunic Dress

June 11, 2021

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaggggges ago, a friend who I met through the WI gave me all her sewing stuff. She said she goes from hobby to hobby, buys everything, but then wants to try something new! I was very pleased to take a load of lovely patterns and fabrics off her hands. By way of thanks, I made her a tunic dress that she had envisioned making for herself but she hadn’t got around to it. It was a Simplicity ‘Dottie Angel’ dress, pattern number 1080A, and she already had the 3 contrasting fabrics ready to make view C of the dress, quite similar to the ones on the pattern envelope!

There’s not much to report really about the actual sewing of it, it was fairly straightforward as far as I remember (I probably made this in 2019 – I’m just catching up with blogging!). The dress fitted ok. I obviously had the measurements but it’s designed as a semi fitted tunic anyway, with straps that tie at the back to cinch in the waist as the wearer desires.

This is the second time I’ve made a Dottie Angel apron – the first one was for myself for work and it’s still going strong (especially as it has had a year’s rest due to Covid!).

My favourite thing about these Dottie Angel patterns is the contrasting fabrics, and the pockets, which are big and practical.

Sewing for twins again!

June 1, 2021

The twins turned one year old! For their birthday I made them each a new set of bibbed trousers. This is my favourite thing to sew for babies because they are practical and cute and easy to sew and unisex and there are so many options to customise them! This time I used a new pattern called ‘The Play Set’ pattern which was free with Simply Sewing. I think the designer might be the same one who designed the Kitty Pinafore dress which I’ve made a couple of times. It has a lovely applique boat design, but that part didn’t really complement the dinosaur fabric I had chosen, so I didn’t do any applique.

To make the suits look like a pair, but not exactly the same, I used an Indigo denim and some Art Gallery dinosaur canvas and made each with both fabrics, but the opposite of each other. I used yellow topstitching on both suits and found two matching buttons for the backs. The design of the pattern at the back suggested making a loop on the back waistband for the straps to tie onto, but I didn’t like this idea at all as I thought that would make an uncomfortable knot on the babies’ backs.

I love how the pockets match the straps and the facings! At first I was a little put out that I didn’t have enough of the dinosaur fabric to get a dino dead-centre on the pocket, but in the end I think the off-centre dinosaur looks as though it’s just wandered into the picture!

I made these in a 18-24 month size even though the twins only just turned one. It’s always better to have growing room and with the lockdown I wasn’t exactly able to measure them. As usual I did a couple of buttonholes on each strap in case adjustments are needed.

I’m really pleased with how these turned out, and they’ve already been worn and I can confirm the twins were excellent models.

I would definitely use this pattern again!

The Kitty Pinafore Dress

May 25, 2021

A few years ago I made two little sisters a Kitty Pinafore dress each for their birthdays. They wore them quite a bit so when the elder sister’s birthday rolled around again I made her the next size up. The pattern was free with Simply Sewing magazine, and was designed by ‘Wild Things’. I made this dress with a medium weight navy blue twill, and for the ears I used a canvas ticking stripe, and so chose to do ivory topstitching on the straps and the pocket to coordinate.

As I probably mentioned before when I posted about making my first two Kitty Pinafore dresses, the pattern confused me a bit with the waistband, as you are asked to add 3 inches to the pattern I think for a foldover channel for the elastic. I did not notice this until the fabric was already cut, and so had to cut a separate piece and add it in. Luckily it makes no difference to the appearance or fit of the dress!

I remembered that last time I made the girls these dresses, the buttonhole placement was a little too low and I had to add some extra in, so this time I sewed a couple of extra buttonholes on each strap before giving it away! I love the button! I got this at a sewing exhibition somewhere. I bought three, and two of them are on a Tilly & the Buttons Cleo pinafore I made for myself. I’m glad they have all been used now.

I hand sewed the whiskers with embroidery floss, and used the blanket stitch on my machine for the applique eyes and nose. It’s such a cute little cat face!

Birthday dress for a 4 year old

May 18, 2021

Don’t you just love it when you can use a sewing pattern over and over again? I have used New Look 6309 many times before to make pretty dresses for little girls. My daughter is too big for the pattern now, but it still comes in handy for making dresses for daughters of my friends. This dress was a very satisfying make because I was able to use up some fabric left over from a previous project, and I knew the bold, bright floral design would be popular with the recipient!

This time I sewed my label into the skirt side seam rather than into the back bodice lining.

The collar was an added bonus to the dress (you can make it without if you like). I had bought some fat quarter solid colours for making rainbow bunting a while back and had just enough of the turquoise to make the collar (but sadly not a matching sash). I also had enough scraps of white poplin to line the bodice. Perfect!

Back view, centred zip fastening

The dress is just as happy as the little girl who wears it 🙂

Red Boiler Suit from the film ‘Us’

May 11, 2021

A few years ago I was commissioned to make some dressing up outfits for a museum, and one of my designs was a boiler suit. These were supposed to be proper overalls for working in, and I was asked to make them in red.

I don’t know if any of you have seen the horror film ‘Us’ (2019) directed by Jordan Peele, but the premise of that film, in a nutshell, is that every person (in the US, at least) has a doppelganger, living in an underground network of tunnels, and ‘tethered’ to their above-ground counterpart by a mysterious psychological connection. When ‘the tethered’ come up above ground as part of a co-ordinated uprising, they are all wearing red boiler suits.

For Halloween 2020, I used the same pattern as I had for the commission with a few minor length adjustments, and actually ordered some of the same fabric too: a heavy red twill from Minerva. The non-fitted, unisex style of the boiler meant that the finished garment actually fitted both of us (but not at the same time, haha).

On the night of Halloween, all my husband needed was a pair of sandals and a large pair of gold scissors, but we forgot about the scissors and had to make do with a less scary-looking pair!

The boiler suit is now tucked away in the loft with other dressing-up items. I did consider just wearing it on a day-to-basis after Halloween, but thought better of it in the end!

Sewing for twins!

May 4, 2021

A friend of mine brought two beautiful babies into the world in 2020. The various lockdowns and tiers and restrictions meant that, sadly, we didn’t get to see much of them, but I was able to at least crack out some mix and match twin-clothes for them for Christmas. The first set I want to show you was made with Burda 9372, and two different colourways of Christmas fabric from Minerva.

I chose the bibbed trousers for both babies so that either twin could wear either garment (they are boy and girl twins). I was spoilt for choice with Christmas-themed fabric to choose from, but really happy with my final choice. I especially like how the design on each fabric is perpendicular to the other.

My favourite view of these though is the back view. I just love the crossover straps, the metal buttons, and patch pockets on the bum! So cute! I can just imagine the twins getting up to all sorts of mischief in these!

I think these may have been the only Christmas sewing I did in 2020. Covid definitely killed off my time to sew and my desire to sew!

As I wasn’t able to get the babies measurements or try them on, I did a couple of buttonhole fastenings on the straps in case the fit needed adjusting. I also made mum and dad a set of coordinating face coverings, just for that extra special Covid-safe vibe!

I’d definitely recommend this pattern. It was easy to sew and is really cute!

Dinosaur wedding attire!

May 2, 2021

Several years ago my best friend had a humanist wedding ceremony, and her husband used to always joke that on his wedding day he would dress up as dinosaur. He didn’t, but as a nod to his idea I made a dinosaur dress for me to wear to the celebration. Several years on the happy couple decided to make their marriage legally binding by having another ceremony at the registry office. This ceremony was during the day, the Saturday before Christmas, and this time the kids were able to come too.

I was hoping that the dress I made for the first wedding would still fit, but alas it did not! Undeterred, I ordered two coordinating dinosaur fabrics from Minerva to use for the kids, and figured I’d work on my outfit after I’d made theirs, and I might get around to making my husband a dinosaur tie or something. As it happened, I only made the kids clothes and nothing for us. I wore my Tilly & the Buttons blue velvet Joni dress which felt suitably fancy and also winter-appropriate.

For my daughter, I made a simple dress using a pattern from a Prima magazine from July 2014 – just a very straightforward sleeveless dress with a lined bodice, gathered skirt and centre back zip.

For my son, I made a shirt using Burda 5366, a pattern for both men and boys. I think I had used this pattern previously to make my husband a shirt.

I seem to remember I was sewing the shirt at the very last minute the night before the wedding, and to save time I sewed the buttons on by machine and not very securely, and a couple of them popped off at the reception! Ooops!

Here’s a pic of the dinosaur dress I made for myself last time:

The Dinosaur Dress

I do love this dress! Hope I can wear it again one day!

Luna Lapin bunny rabbit!

December 28, 2020

A good few years ago at my WI’s subsidiary craft club, our host Pauline arranged with Sarah from CoolCrafting for us to all get kits to make the Luna Lapin rabbit. I am not naturally inclined to hand sew, as I am too impatient, so although I was rather enamoured with Luna, she was always going to be a project on the backburner for me. I started her that night, and packed her up, unfinished, into a bag, which I took on various holidays without looking at, took on other holidays where I would maybe spend half an hour making her, and one holiday where I forgot about her completely and actually left her behind! (Thankfully she was returned to me months later).

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Luna with her favourite gin and a carrot

Last night when I was trying to decide what to do, I decided I’d get her out and see where I was up to. After an hour or so I was pleasantly surprised to be able to finish making her. My daughter and I spent this morning looking through hundreds of Instagram posts of all the different Luna Lapins out there, as well as some of Luna’s friends, and we were inspired to make her a dress today.

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Luna in her new dress

My daughter chose the fabric and traced the pattern from the book, then I helped her cut the fabric and we did the sewing together. I did the more fiddly bits (such as the collar) but she did quite a bit of the pinning and sewing too. She has already picked out some fabric for pyjamas for Luna, some denim dungarees and we want to make her some silly frilly lacy underwear, because it’s funny and cute 🙂 I am desperate to make Luna the coat from the book, which is totally adorable!

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Luna in the mirror

Our day of sewing was great and Luna very much enjoyed her photo shoot afterwards! My daughter would like to make her own Luna Lapin and we also have the other book of Luna Lapin’s friends. They are all so cute.

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Luna with her ears sticking up!

There are a few things I’d do differently next time I make a Luna Lapin. The main thing is that I wouldn’t attach her arms until the body is stuffed, sewn up and the head is attached. I’m not totally satisfied with her arm placement, although it makes no difference when she has her clothes on!

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Luna Lapin

The other thing is that at first I sewed with such a teeny seam allowance, that by the time I had stuffed her legs, the felt started to pull apart at the seams. Having looked at hundreds of other Lunas online, I see that she looks just as beautiful with quite sturdy, noticeable seams, and must be much more hard-wearing that way. I don’t want to give my first Luna to anyone else because I’m not sure she’d withstand being played with and cuddled by a child, so she is going to live in my sewing room where I can admire her.

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All the fabric, stuffing and notions for Luna came with the kits we bought at the WI craft club. The dress was made with fabric kindly passed on to me by someone else from the WI!

Luna’s dress fastens at the back with what looks like buttons, but is actually snap fasteners – clever eh! It meant I didn’t have to sew teeny tiny buttonholes!

Juno Pyjamas

October 12, 2020

Back in the time before lockdown, I went to London for the weekend to see my friend and go to The Stitch Festival at the Business Design Centre, Islington. It was a brilliant, carefree weekend, the memory of which I’ll always treasure. We had a fabulous time at the Stitch Festival, had burritos for lunch in Islington, and treated ourselves to Champagne at Searcy’s St Pancras on the way back to my friend’s flat. It was a total over-indulgence and I was blissfully unaware at the time that it would be the last of its kind for, well, I don’t even know how long. I’m SO glad we did it!

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At the Stitch Festival I was pretty restrained with my purchases, having been through a period of little-to-no-sewing, and having acquired a bit of a stash of unused fabrics at home. I did really fancy making the new Tilly and the Buttons pattern though for the ‘Juno’ pyjamas, and was after some nice jersey as that is one thing I don’t tend to stash. There were lots of nice jerseys on offer at the show, but none hit the sweet spot until we went to Sew Me Sunshine’s stall, pretty much our last stop before leaving. There I found some amazing space print jersey, at a price I was willing to pay. I then got some ready made cuff ribbing from another stall to coordinate.

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After several weeks of procrastination, I finally traced the pattern and cut my fabric. Then lockdown struck. Throughout lockdown and all over summer, my sewing output was solely concentrated on sewing face coverings, apart from sewing with my children as part of their home education! My daughter wanted to make a dress and a nightcap for the doll she had sewn from scratch, and wanted to use some of the leftover fabric from my space pyjamas. I tried not to be slightly put out that the doll got her sleepwear before I did 😉

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It wasn’t until the children went back to school in September that I finally felt like sewing for myself, and first on my list was to get the Juno space pyjamas sewn up. I did that and then straight after went on to also sew a pair of Carolyn pyjama shorts that I had cut out whenever it was that I made the Carolyn Pyjamas…

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I am happy with the Juno pyjamas and would make them again for sure. They are the kind of pyjamas I’m most comfortable in these days. Everything in stretch fabric forever and ever…!

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These two were good projects to help me rediscover the joys of sewing!

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