. . . . . . A place to contribute, exchange tips and ideas and find further info on the LDC group on Meetup.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Once upon a time in Jaipur- Part 3 The Balotra ghaggra.

While in Jaipur, visiting the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, I was introduced to the means of divining the status of a native of the area of Balotra by the fabric of the traditional clothes that they wore.
Anokhi are a company who aim to promote, support and encourage traditional means of creating fabric designs, both in historical and contemporary styles.   At the Museum there were fascinating displays of fabrics, both old and new, shown as lengths of cloth or made up into clothing.  Craftsmen demonstrated the making of printing blocks and the printing of fabric.  Exhibits explained the often very complex techniques used to create multi-coloured fabrics.
Of course there is a museum shop selling fabric, clothes and the beautiful paperback books that Anokhi produce about various aspects of traditional fabric.  I bought "Balotra, the complex language of print".  All these books have marvellous photographs and actual fabric samples in them.

 Included  in the book were instructions on exactly how to cut a ghaggra skirt.

And, amongst the hand-printed fabric in the shop, was the very design illustrated.  Immediately I knew that  I wanted to make this skirt.  Traditionally the skirt is full length and requires at least 5 metres of fabric but I knew that this was not practical for me so I decided on just below the knee.  With the help of the shop staff  we worked out that I needed 3 metres.

The various fabric designs convey different messages about the status of the wearer.  Some can only be worn by young unmarried girls, some only by married women, some only by widows, others are worn only by natives of a particular tribe of the region and some only by people of a certain trade- potters, iron workers etc.  Thus you could look at the clothes worn by a woman and see that she was a widow of a particular tribe.
The fabric shown above can be worn by any woman but it is the decorative edging that conveys their marital status, the wide red border with yellow piping means that the wearer is a married woman whereas a very thin red border meant a widow.  I am not married but do have a long term partner but there appeared to be no traditional way of communicating this via fabric.
The way the fabric is cut gives very little wastage, needs no pattern and only requires cutting in straight lines.  First the fabric is cut into sections the length you want the skirt to be, this is the stage shown in the picture above. Each section is folded in half selvedge to selvedge and you make a diagonal fold across the fabric a short distance in from the corner.  Then you cut down that fold- see below.

  From this folded section of cloth you will get 4 kalis (panels) as you see below.

These are then sewn together with the narrowest sections at the top.  Below are the four joined kalis from one section of cloth. You can see that an interesting chevron pattern is formed at certain points.
In total I had 16 kalis to join, below you can see 8 of them shown from the wrong side.  The carpet was the only place I could find where there was enough room to spread it out.

The waist is formed by creating a channel through which a cord can be threaded, drawn up and tied at the side of the ghaggra.  Traditionally this is red and I found a lovely bright red at Wimbledon Sewing and Craft Superstore- thank goodness I live not far from this shop.  I simply stitched a length around the waist, folded it over and stitched it again to create a tube.  The drawcord was made from some yellow, red and black striped ribbon in my stash.  To stop the ribbon disappearing into the channel when not tied I created loops of beads and red dyed bamboo from my stash and knotted these to the ends of the ribbon.  I had seen examples of the end ties of such skirts being embellished with beads in some of the museums that I visited in India.

I pondered as to how I should indicate my status and decided to create my own symbol, which was to put 3 lines of red top stitching just above the hemline.  This also saved me hours of hand stitching the hem.
So here are some more photos of the finished result.

You can get carried away with twirling!
If anyone would like to make a skirt in this manner I can send a better copy of the brief instructions, just ask in the comments section below.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Once upon a time in Jaipur... Part 2. Making the jacket.

While in India I had seen slim jackets, made from block printed fabric, that had been quilted with closely spaced parallel lines of machine stitching.  I liked the look but wanted something softer to wear as the close stitching made these jackets a bit stiff.  I decided to make an edge to edge jacket with no fastening and with more widely spaced quilting lines on the body but none on the sleeves, which I wanted to be very flexible.
 For my jacket pattern I needed only three of the eight pieces copied from my Myanmar top (see Part 1).  As I intended to bind the edges I ignored the seam allowances to the front edges and neck I had added to the copy.  The original garment had facing but I intended to fully line my garment and did not require these.  Here are the three pieces; as you can see (just about about as the photo is dark) the shape is very simple and has no darts.

I had printed three pieces on the short, narrow lengths of cloth we were given but, unfortunately, when I went to collect my washed and dried fabric only two of the three pieces could be found.  However, the back and front pieces of my copied pattern just fitted on one of those pieces and the sleeves, extended to reach wrist level as they were only three quarter length on the original garment, on the other piece.  It was a real squeeze, any less fabric and I would have had to have a shorter jacket and sleeves and not the lengths I really wanted.  This back piece is only a little smaller in width than the width of the fabric.

Had the third piece come to light I would have used this to create the edge binding.  However a trip to the Stitching, Sewing and Hobbycraft show at Excel in April provided the extras I need. At the Lili Fabrics stall I found a cotton print with toning shades of blue.  Now the jacket is finished I think this looks better than the dabu print would have done and it is a thicker cotton so will make a harder wearing edge.  At another stall I found the thin wadding I needed.  I could not decide between the polyester type, which the stall holder advised, and the cotton wadding, which seemed to me to be more flexible, so I bought both. After pre-washing them I realised the stall holder was right.
For the lining I raided my stash and used some supple polyester in dark blue with a small white motif, a cheap buy from Walthamstow Market a couple of years ago. The lining was cut out using the same pattern as for the outside of the jacket.
I quilted the outer fabric body pieces before stitching the front and back pieces together at shoulder and side seams. When I bought my sewing machine it came with a walking foot and a quilt guide that can be attached to it.  I had not used the guide before and was delighted to discover that it made stitching parallel lines so easy.

Once you have stitched the first line you set the quilt guide at the width apart that you wish your next stitching line to be and place it on your first line of stitching.  If you make sure the guide follows that line as you machine then you will have a perfectly parallel line of stitching next to it.  Without this I would have had to measure out and mark each of the lines so it was a time saver as well as an accuracy aid.

  The original top had two pockets but I did not want to disrupt the pattern on the exterior front so I put a pocket on the inside lining instead.  Once the lining was made up I secured it on the inside to the inside of the jacket at the shoulder and side seams and then pinned and tacked lining, wadding and outer fabric together all round the outer edge to keep it in position when applying the binding. I played about with various widths for the edging and decided the effect that I liked best was to have the edging of the hems broader than that of the neck and front edgings.  The edging was first machine stitched to the outer side of the jacket and then folded over to the right side and hand stitched to the lining.
I am so pleased with the end result.  Here's the back view.

And the side view- (go back to Part 1 for the finished front view).

Someone made a comment to me that "It looks as comfortable as a cardigan but smarter" and it is.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Once upon a time in Jaipur ... A Dabu jacket- Part 1.

This is the story of how this jacket came into being.

Actually the tale begins four years ago in Myanmar in this weaving shed.

Having been trekking in the hills in the North where there was no time or opportunity to wash my clothes- any water requirements meant a trek to the village pump-

so my rucksack contained only dirty laundry and I longed for something clean to wear.  Hence my purchase there of this rather boring looking hand woven top.

It has been my constant travelling companion ever since.  It can be worn as a blouse (loose and cool in hot countries) or layered over a t-shirt or wool sweater (depending on how cold the weather gets), has pockets and doesn't show the dirt.  I have been meaning to copy it for some time and the recent Club "Trace your favourite garment" Sewalong gave me the impetus to do so.  I used tips from this video  by Ana of CocoWawa Crafts on Youtube.  Watching it really helped me to approach copying in an organised manner, especially the advice to make a list of all the pieces you need to trace before you start.  I used my current favourite tracing material, horticultural fleece, to trace off the pieces; I describe my method on this blog previously here .  Using this method I could pin the pattern pieces together after tracing and check the fit and whether the seams were true.  Right first time!- Thanks Ana.
The story now moves to Jaipur, March 2017, where I joined a delightful group on one of the textile holidays organised by Jamie Malden of Colouricious
This holiday focused on Block Printing using traditional carved wooden pattern blocks.

 We enjoyed a number of workshops at different venues trying out block printing methods.  One of these was dabu, a mud-resist form of printing that has been in existence since at least the 7th century A.D.  A thin paste is made from a mixture of mud, gum, lime and wheat chaff and the wooden pattern block dipped into this and applied to the prepared fabric- just like this:

Next sawdust, of which there is plenty from the making of the wooden printing blocks, is sprinkled over the printed fabric and it adheres to the wet sticky paste.

The fabric is then left to dry in the sun.

Once dry it is taken to the indigo vat for dyeing.

 The area covered by paste and sawdust resists the indigo dye.  You can see the areas of resist clearly on these cloths that have just been removed from the vat and spread to dry.  The dabu still remains on the cloth.

Subsequently the cloth is washed to remove the paste and reveal the lighter design.  This is a simplified explanation of the technique (much more complicated designs can be achieved with multiple dyeing) but this is exactly how I made the cloth for my jacket.

Coming in Part 2- the making of the jacket.  In the meantime I leave you with some pictures of fellow sewists in the village where we went to do this type of printing.
A tailor making a shirt :

A woman stitching a quilt:

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Getting to grips with an unfamiliar sewing foot

Do you use more than a couple of the sewing feet that come with  your machine? I must admit that I didn't.

The walking foot on a Janome sewing machine

I swapped the standard foot with the walking foot (also known as a even feed foot or dual feed foot) for most of my straight stitching: preventing slippage of one fabric layer is a wonderful thing!  I don't miss the standard foot at all.

I also use my zip foot for sewing in zips, obviously, - this tends to be the only thing that I remove my walking foot for.

But I didn't use all these other sewing feet except for trying out the blind hem foot (which works fabulously!) - the other day I was thinking about why.  I have a feeling that I somehow thought that I should be able to do all kinds of things with just these two feet, almost as if that was some kind of challenge.  How silly!

The other reason is likely a fear of a bad experience, that trying would make me feel very dejected (yes, call me chicken).  Just ask me about my experiences sewing in invisible zips because I didn't realise that I had the wrong foot. Yah, that one.

But the thing is that a specialised sewing foot can make your sewing much easier, if you give yourself enough time to experiment with it and learn how to use it without wanting to throw your machine out of the window...  You know, when things go really badly.

It is very easy to get discouraged when sewing isn't going well and you don't know why.  One of the more horrible feelings that could make you feel so wretched that you stop sewing. Let's not do that!

So how can you get to grips with a different foot without feeling like a right fool?

Sewing machine feet come in two different kinds on the main: those you screw on and those that snap on. Your machine will only take one rather than the other.  Make sure that the manufacturer of the foot lists it as suitable for your specific machine model - if you're not sure that you want to spend the money on the genuine part, maybe you can borrow it from a friend or try it out at their place?  It'll give you the best idea of whether it's a good investment. A generic foot may sound good but if it doesn't work then it's wasted money.

But let's say that you have the right foot and you installed it - that alone can take quite a while!  I try to do something unfamiliar only when I have lots of time and there's no pressure.

My very best tip is to check that a) you picked the right machine setting for your purpose, and b) that the machine needle will not hit the foot itself.

To do this safely: hold on to the sewing thread at the back (or use a starter patch) and then move your machine needle by turning the wheel by hand.  If the foot or the setting is wrong then the needle could hit the foot itself on any downward motion that make up the stitch.

Some feet work with a straight stitch and others with a zigzag stitch - that's why it is important to manually move the needle through a whole repeat of the stitch.

Use a test patch of fabric because it is much easier to manoeuvre a small piece.  Check for tips for using your specific foot online and on YouTube - there may be a trick or hint that's not obvious, e.g. that the fabric needs to touch the guide's side of the narrow hem foot when you guide it into the roll-over bit.  A rolled hem foot may behave similarly, please check.

Use your slowest sewing speed if you can adjust it and then play around some. Use a different kind of fabric if your first sample fabric turns out as stubborn and non-userfriendly, see what works for you.  Once you get to grips with another fabric, you can go back to the one you'll want to use.

If the foot isn't doing what you thought it would - there is a chance that it is a different foot or that the fabric needs to lie a different way to feed under the needle. YouTube videos can be particularly helpful for that.

For example a blind hem foot works by catching just a couple of threads of a fabric fold - so the fabric has to lie the right way.  I find it quite counter-intuitive and tend to try it the wrong way round first. Ugh.

The way you pin a seam can make a difference: a narrow hem foot won't work with pins put in perpendicular to the edge, you need to start off with just the one pin placed parallel to the edge, - any additional pins are in the way because you need to hold the fabric to guide it. I think this probably applies to a rolled hem as well.

There is a good article on the Threads website about the narrow foot:

The start of the three page article, and here is the link to all the pages. I think the first link has a bit more information.

What sewing feet have you tried and do you have any advice on how best to use them? Please share!

~ ~ ~

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Tracing the pattern from a RTW garment

Have you traced the pattern of a ready to wear garment, one you bought in the shops?

It can be a great way to get a sewing pattern because it is a clothing item that you know fits well enough to want another one just like it.  Or at least with as few adjustments as needed. Preferrably the ones you know how to do.

I bought a lovely short-sleeved blouse with intriguing double layer ruffles from a charity shop.  I did realise at the time that I keep going for this very pale blue, chalky looking shade and then end up not wearing it because it makes me look pasty, to be brutally honest.  Do I learn from this and stop buying clothes or knitting yarn this colour?  Heck no, course not.

So it seems that I bought a pattern instead.

It took me a while to start taking this blouse apart.  I saw the great tip of leaving half the blouse intact so I can see how it goes back together - I only need one set of pattern pieces after all.  I'm glad I read that on a helpful blog somewhere, I'm not confident that I would have realised.  Start wielding a seam ripper and I keep on going...

This blouse fits fairly well.  The dart is not quite in the right place and I need to suppress a wedge of fabric in the underarm area, I am optimistic that I know how to adjust the underarm seams as well as the sleeve width. Fingers crossed.

I flattened each piece carefully, straightened what edges need to be straight (e.g. the centre back that will be cut on the fold), and weighed the whole down with my trusty pattern weights.  Also known as glass coasters in another life - I use them with the felt feet pointing up, they work fabulously.

I drew around each piece making sure that the shapes make sense: an armhole needs to look scooped and not jagged, no corner should look too sharp or seamlines lie in an undulating S-shape.  So far so good!  The test will come when I sew this up in a toile fabric.  I haven't got that far yet.

I did add more generous seam allowances because these were very narrow (the blouse was industrially made after all) and I may have to re-do the flounces. These are a circular shape that looks a bit like a Viennese whirl. Mine have an element of squashed doughnut to them, so I may compare to a commercial pattern I have in my collection. Just to sense-check.

I also traced some stretch fabric leggings that I loved but nasty moths had left a gaping hole near the knee, damn them.  I'm delighted that this worked really well too.  The pieces look astoundingly legging-like, just like a commercial pattern!  At least I like to think so.

I ripped apart most seams on one half only.  I ended up with the back piece and also a flat front piece that I left whole even though there is an internal seam that dissects it in a very intriguing style line.  That's the reason why I wanted to trace off this pattern.  I'd be looking for a pattern like it till the cows come home and not find it.

If I had ripped these pieces apart I'd end up with a very thin strip for the side panel. I think it would be very tough to lay this out straight.  A piece as narrow as this would go wonky as soon as you look at it.  Instead I traced the entire front piece, and then started to roll it back gently and marked the internal seam every couple of centimeters. That was a great way to prevent problems.

Have a look at the photo:

I reckon I've done well for not having traced off patterns in a pretty long time.  I haven't yet put these pattern pieces through their paces, but I live in hope that it'll go well too.

You may be able to trace a simple garment off without having to take it apart, as long as you can get each piece to lie flat.  But shapes would get distorted too easily if trying to trace off a complex item with multiple seams like my blouse.  I am lucky, I can't wear either of them so I didn't have to worry about it.

Have you sewn anything from a traced off pattern, how did the whole process work out for you? It would be really useful to hear of people's experiences - always good to learn from others. Please share in the comments!

~ ~ ~

Monday, 13 March 2017

Sewing tips - or I love YouTube videos!

Isn't YouTube fantastic for all kinds of things?  It most definitely is extremely useful for the many videos about sewing and dressmaking.  The trick is finding them.

Here is one on Ten Sewing Tips that I think is very good. One of the best 12 minutes you'll spend!

National Sewing Circle's '10 Sewing Tips from the Experts'

You may have come across some of these, but I bet that there is something here that is useful. I know that I had not heard of surgical seam rippers before (they sound kind of dangerous? But they could be quite good for the purposes described) and I thought the tip of how to test whether a sewing maching needle is the right size by threading the loose needle by hand and checking if the needle runs easily along the thread - that tip alone was worth the time watching the clip!

Some of the tips concern the sewing machine, others are general tips. All useful.

I really liked what Ellen March says about reading your sewing machine's manual.  Now if you're like me then your eyes glaze over at the thought of reading through the whole thing when you just bought your machine, or even later on (let's face it: none of us did that when we first got our machines. I know I didn't).  It takes a lot of focus and concentration to follow along - particularly when it is all theoretical at this stage, without an immediate practical use.

I would rather break this up into several sessions and avoid the long slog of a single sitting reading.

My problem is that I tend to forget things that I don't use soon after reading them. That's why my advice is to dip in and out of your manual and for that reason it is a really fantastic idea to designate a permenent place for it near your sewing machine. You'll want to know where it is at all times - it's beyond frustrating to start searching for the damn thing every single time you'll want it.

I learned how to do lapped zips from my manuel. The drawings are very useful and the description tells you what you're looking at. I don't do lapped zips all that often and therefore find it a very good idea to open my manual to remind myself how to place the fabric layers and which bit to fold over or under...

It saves time and energy that I prefer to use for actual sewing.

Having praised this video, I also have a book containing hundreds of sewing tips (by both experts and everyday seamstresses), called: "1,000 Clever Sewing Shortcuts & Tips", by Deepika Prakash from - it is very good. There is so much material in this book that I have not been able to even get through a tenth of it.  This blog post reminds me of the book. I'll think I'll go and put it with my machine manual!

What are your tips of something useful that you do all the time? Please share!

Friday, 10 March 2017

Sewing motivation in little steps

You know what sewing is like: you're really into it, making great progress, you're so looking forward to the finished garment... and then something happens that slows you down, interrupts your flow, gums up the works - you put your sewing aside, and despite your good intentions, you don't get round to pick it up again another day. 

Unfortunately it often happens that a short break from sewing results in a much longer period of not sewing at all.  Sewing is not like knitting that's easily put-downable and pick-upable, to coin a phrase.  You have to pull the sewing machine back out, free up the space for all the stuff you need, get all the bits back together, - and you generally need to plan things a lot more than just carrying on on impulse.

I have found it incredibly easy to lose my motivation to sew.  While the thought of my massive fabric stash, and all those lovely patterns, and all these exciting ideas what I could make (if only), and what design features I could incorporate... they seem to percolate away but not lead anywhere.

Tash has written a great post about sewing motivation, I very much enjoyed it.  My post is about  one technique that I use to overcome the not-sewing-but-I-really-want-to slump: do something, anything that comes to mind, even if it's just a little something.

Small steps, the itty-bitty tiny ones, are very useful to regain your motivation to sew again.

The sorts of things I like to do, just one at a time, - in no particular order:

  • Read through some of the sewing instructions to check how it deals with a particular part of the sewing process
  • Wind my bobbin - ready to sew whenever that might be ('bobbin mates' are great for keeping a bobbin spool and sewing thread together)
  • Look at my fabric and stroke it a bit (yes really. Though that works slightly better with wool when comtemplating a knitting project)
  • Clearing my cutting table. You never know it might make me spread the fabric out and maybe even cut out some of the pieces... or all of them once I get started and it's not as horrendously labourious as I expected...
  • If I am further along: pin something, measure something, baste or tack pieces together, do a little pressing with the iron, ...
  • Set up the ironing board, including iron, tailor ham, clapper or whatever else I like to use
  • Heck, even dust off my sewing machine.  It likes a bit of tender loving care occasionally
  • Write a bullet point list of steps needed from now to the end of the project, or just a couple of points of my next steps
  • Lay my dressmaking pattern envelope on my sewing table, or put it with my machine.  Adding the fabric to keep it company is good too
  • Cut out the pattern tissue pieces.  Even if I only start with the big ones, or the little ones, I can usually go on to do all of the ones I need (I have big freezer bags, with a ziplock top, that I put the tissue pieces, pattern envelope and other materials into ready to use)
  • Look at the pattern envelope to familiarise myself with the line drawing, what kinds of pieces there are, what shape they're in, where the seams are. That sort of thing
  • Take out the sewing instructions and circle all the numbers of the pattern pieces for my chosen view or option
  • Go out and buy or look for the other bits I'll need: check the zip colour and length against my fabric, pull out interfacing, set out pins, chose buttons (or pin different options to the fabric to see which I like), grab tape or ribbons, double-check that my sewing thread hasn't gone dry and brittle if I had it a while (been there, done that), double-check the pattern for anything I forgot
  • Check out the fabric in the mirror to see what it'll look like on me
  • Sew 'just' the one seam... which usually leads to a bit more... and this little bit here, and that one bit there...

Any of these things might be all I do at the time.  It gives me a feeling of satisfaction that I managed to successfully put a stop to my slump.  And strangely enough one small thing is often enough to do a second little something: either straight away, or a bit later in the day.

The best thing about the little step approach is that everything more is a bonus and you're not expecting that you'll complete your project in a few hours from the time you get up to do anything.  If you're literally only reminding yourself of the sewing instructions then that's enough to get you thinking about things in a practical manner again.

And that seems to losen the paralysis of "I really want to sew, so why don't I?"

What other small steps can you think of?  What do you do to get yourself over a long pause in sewing?  What gets your creative energy flowing?

Please let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Sewing tips - needles and pins

I bought a great book about clever sewing tips some time ago and promised myself that I would dip in and out - these are tips everyday people have come up with for making sewing easier, more accurate or better in some other kind of way. There's shortcuts and all kinds of tips in there: including stuff that I had never even considered before!

This is easier said than done because I misplaced the book. Ach, most annoying. Please let me know if anyone has borrowed it from me at one of the Dressmakers meetings!

We can come up with sewing tips ourselves, please add yours in the comments!  I am sure there are lots of useful things that I haven't listed. This blog post ne is all about pins and needles. Here goes, in no particular order:

To keep two layers together for sewing, put pins sideways (i.e. perpendicular) into your fabric: you won't distort the length of the two layers in relation to each other - pins that run parallel to the cut edge can bunch up the top fabric and shift the layers out of alignment.  NB: If you are left-handed you can try inserting the pins from the left for easier removal.

A great article on pinning for beginners here at How To Sew. And a very fabulous post by Threads Magazine here - who knew there could be so many tips on pins and pinning?

Removing pins
It is probably best to remove pins before you sew over them. Some people do as a matter of course - I find it just as easy to take them out as I sew along than do it later. One big thing: the machine needle usually slips past the pin and keeps on sewing but it is very possible for the needle to hit a pin and break. Small parts of a broken needle can get propelled incredibly fast and quite a distance and would be very bad news if they end up in your eye. It would do serious damage. I would therefore strongly recommend removing pins at all times. Even wearing glasses cannot completely protect your eyes and may provide a false sense of security.

Right side/wrong side
I like to put a pin with a glass head into the right side of all fabric pieces as soon as I cut them out. Some fabrics make it really tough to tell one side from the other, except when you've sewn everything up - then the one piece you got wrong may be glaringly obvious.  At some point I tried to use white glass pins for the front and darker ones for the back but found that too much faffing around.  Other people like to put a chalk X on the wrong side of the fabric instead.

Types of pins
Pins come in different lengths and thicknesses. If you want to take a look to compare them, places like John Lewis department store sell pins that are for all kinds of purposes (dressmaking pins, bridal & lace pins, appliqué pins, and many others) - I like to use the longer ones that are quite thin. These go into fabric more easily and also come back out without having to wrench them (not all fabrics work well with thin pins, others need different ones).  Try out several kinds, see what you like best.

Thread Magazine desribes an astonishing range of pins.

Pins to use with jersey (or stretch or knit) fabrics: pins are also available as ball point pins!  To be completely honest: I had no idea so you learn something new every day. (I also didn't know that there are even Glow-in-the-dark pins! Not kidding)

There are also other kinds of pins: U shaped fork pins, much longer with yellow glass heads or flat flower disks. The latter ones are for use in quilting and might come in useful for dressmaking too. There are also items that pin layers together without being pins: clips and similar that are often used in quilting. Use these on leather and other materials that should not be pierced - if you don't have these, try sellotape or pin only in the seam allowance.

Collecting spilled pins
Magnets are great for picking up spilled pins. Who wants to crawl around on the floor and get them stuck in your fingers. There is just one very important thing: please keep your magnet away from your laptop and computer. I have heard nightmare stories of people who have wiped their harddrive because their dressmaking magnet got too close. Better safe than sorry.

Machine sewing needles

Don't worry if you never paid attention to what kind of needle is sitting in your sewing machine. I sewed with the pre-installed needle for years before having to change it - but I don't think I was sewing very well.  Using the right kind of needle can make things a lot easier.

Universal or sharps needles are for woven fabrics. They come in different sizes, use a 70 or 75 for thinner fabrics, and a 80 or 90 for medium weight fabrics. If you sew with very heavy and dense fabrics then you may need a needle with a higher number but the 70-90 sizes are usually sufficient.

Ballpoint or stretch needles are for sewing knits, also known as jersey fabrics, Ponte, IDC, interlock or any other material that is not woven but made from interlocked columns of stitches similar to what you get when knitting. I find these ballpoint needles better even than universal needles that are supposed to be good for all materials - a ballpoint is just that bit better at slipping in between the fabric's threads rather than piercing them which is what the sharp needles do. In a fine jersey this can potentially cause holes and damage to the stretch fabric. Go with the right needle, it just makes sewing lots easier. I like to put a small dab of nail varnish on a part of the ballpoint needel that won't touch machine or fabric to tell them apart from sharp needles.

Sewing with different and specialised fabrics calls for different needles: there are all sort of special needles: leather, denim, metallic, to stitch, embroidery, gold embroidery, and a few others.

Here is a list of needles by Schmetz and a visual guide here.

There are also twin needles: a single shaft (for inserting into your machine just like an ordinary sewing needle) that carries two needles below. They are a distance of 2mm, 3mm or 4mm apart - depending on the effect you want to get. You use an ordinary bobbin with these. Make sure you use the exact same thread for all three stitchlines, I ran into huge problems using a different bobbin thread once (loop and loops and loooooooooooopppps of thread down below. It took me ages to rip it back out because it got entangled. I wouldn't recommend it)

Problems with stitching
Always make sure that your needle is inserted as high up as it'll go (check your machine manuel for the right position) and ensure the screw is tight. If your machine suddenly develops a problem with the tension, or it starts making a unusal sound, or any other issue - re-threading the machine (top and bottom) is your best bet. This sorts plenty of tension problems. But if that doesn't help then changing your needle is the next step: your needle might have got blunted, or bent too slightly to be noticeable, or just plain gone wrong somehow. A new needle can make a big difference. Make sure to get rid of the old needle (put in some paper and wrap with sellotape to avoid injuries) before you are tempted to use it again. I did run into the problem once that my sewing thread started to shred: it split into different strands and had bits of fluff hanging around. My needle's eye had gotten damaged and was splicing the thread. Get rid immediately.
I ordered some Millinery straw needles #10 (red box), they are incredibly thin

Hand sewing needles
I am still searching for the holy grail of thin but sturdy hand sewing needles that aren't too short for my poor short-ish fingers. Most hand sewing needles are not quite thin enough for me, I find them tough to get in and out of fabric. Also the needle eyes tend to be really tiny on the short, thin ones. I have heard of Japanese made needles that are supposed to be very good. If anyone knows these or can recommend something else, please let me know in the comments!

Threading your needle
Lots of people wet the sewing thread before threading a needle. There is a better way: leave the thread dry but instead put a little moisture at the back of the needle eye. Thread is attracted to moisture and will slip easier through the needle in order to get to the liquid. It sounds a bit mad but it does work.  If poking away at the needle doesn't work, do cut the thread again to get a blunt end (Please DO NOT use your dressmaking shears for cutting sewing thread, paper or tissue - this will damage and blunt them. Cutting thread will put a tiny nick into your dressmaking shears and you won't be able to cut thin fabrics like chiffon or satin without getting stuck).  If that doesn't work either: there are threaders you can try. Try online or at craft fairs. I have yet to figure out how they work, but amazingly they do!
If you can't get your auto threading device on your machine to work: once you wound the thread around the correct bits and hold it slightly tensed: make sure to release the leaver quite slowly. There is one moment just before the magic happens when you need to go extra slow. Try and avoid the leaver jumping upwards.

And last but not at all least: check your pins and needles for any that are bent or rusty. These just make your life more difficult and sewing somewhat annoying. Which would be a real shame. Let's all go with gadgets and processes that make sewing fun and easier!  Rusty pins can damage your fabric or even ruin it if your WIP is left for some time before you are able to go back to it.

These are the tips I was able to come up with. Can you think of anything else that's pin and needle related? Please add in the comments.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Sewing Productivity

We all want to complete more sewing projects. I often look for articles on how to sew faster, and I love reading sewing blogs. In the last year I've become much more productive! There are lots of tips in different places so I've tried to bring them all together and also explain what works for me. The ideas are laid out into several categories including real life, sewing room setup, materials, methods and you. 

1. Real life
We're all busy people, trying to fit sewing into the gaps between jobs, family, friends and other hobbies. Sometimes sewing is the lowest priority and that's definitely ok. One difficulty is overcommitting oneself, which is a major problem I've had in the past. Is there much point creating a rigid queue of complex projects each needing sewn in two weeks, when in reality you might complete three garments in a year? Why not keep a note of all your ideas but use simpler patterns again and again so you don't have to fit them, and have a shorter queue? I now only have one or two projects on the go at any time so changes to the "queue" are easy. This means I'm more likely to finish items when I need them but I can still keep dreaming of fancy ballgowns. Another thing I learnt after the first few years of sewing is to think like the big fashion houses in terms of when to make garments. Make a coat in Summer so it's ready when the cold hits, rather than starting a coat in October, feeling cold, getting busy, giving up, buying one anyway and finishing the coat in March. And make a swimsuit in Winter!

Me and my real-life distraction :)
2. Setup
The ideal setup is a whole sewing room, or even part of a room with a table, sewing machine and ironing board always up. I used to have that but now the room is the baby's nursery so the ironing board is folded until needed. Often use my sleeve board or ham instead which are quicker to pull out! You may only have a tiny desk and that's ok. Whatever your situation, figure out how much stuff you can keep ready to go in an instant. This prevents time being wasted by setting up and putting away equipment.

My sewing room setup: an old school desk with patterns in one drawer and notions and scraps in the other. Fabric is in the large bookcase, and ironing accessories are to the left of the desk. I made no effort to clean up before taking this photo!
Minimising the amount of patterns, books, notions and fabric you have also makes it easier to find things when you need them. What is minimal to one person and their sewing space is different to another so this is your decision. I have one shelf on a bookshelf which contains fabric. My sewing desk is an old school desk with two deep drawers so one contains patterns and paper, the other contains notions and fabric scraps. I try to keep all these areas regularly cleared out.
The pattern drawer: large patterns in pockets on the left, smaller ones on the right. I have around 60 patterns in here, neatly arranged. 

The other thing that helps productivity for me is using phone apps to organise my patterns and fabrics. I use TapForms for both but a lot of people like Cora for fabrics. I'm fairly sure both are only available for iPhones, but please comment below if I'm wrong! TapForms is database app where you can completely customise all the fields. Examples: 1. I have all my patterns stored with a photo of the front cover, the type of garment(s), the era (40s to modern) and the back cover, with an optional field for TNT; 2. Another form for all my fabrics with a photo, width, length, freeform box to note any scraps or other info, type of fabric and drape; 3. Another for notions... I also keep crochet patterns in one but that's not relevant here. This app takes longer to set up than some, but if you want something completely customisable it's amazing. It also has a search function. Using the database means I can search everything quickly when planning garments or buying fabrics.  It also prevents lots of fabric and patterns being scattered around each time I start daydreaming about making new things.

Lastly, my sewing queue is almost nonexistent. I work on a maximum of two garments at once, with the patterns, thread, fabric and all the bits and pieces for both in a shoebox. If I get bored of one I change to the other but I never have more than two. It would mess up the sewing area and confuse my tiny brain. Also, keeping to this means fewer UFOs.

3. Materials
a. Fabric and patterns
It's easy to get overwhelmed by patterns and fabrics, especially if a bunch of both get pulled out each time you ponder a new project. I have 50-60 paper patterns at any time and often clear out ones that I think I won't use again, or represent my fantasy self rather than being items of clothing I will actually wear. 

Regarding notions: keep a few extra reels of thread which match most of the clothes you make, as well as a few weights of black and white interfacing, zips, buttons, stay tape and anything you use a lot. Chuck the rest or use it up. I use up thread in colours I don't normally need by making tailors' tacks.

b. Cutting
A lot of bloggers swear by using rotary cutters rather than shears. They do cut faster and don't lift fabric as they cut, however, they need a big mat underneath and the blades need replaced often. There's an interesting article on Fashion Incubator about why they're not actually better at cutting: As ever, it's really up to you. Also while cutting you can use weights to hold the pattern in place on the fabric. These need storage space and don't hold slippery fabrics as well, but on the other hand they are much faster to place and remove, and won't leave marks in the fabric. I prefer pins but use as few as possible for each pattern piece.

c. Sewing
A comparison of sewing machines is definitely outwith the scope of this post, however, I would like to suggest exploring different feet and needles as these can help you sew better as well as faster. Most machines can take an invisible zipper foot and rolled hem feet of different sizes. I am a recent convert to twin needles for hemming. Lastly, change your needle often. When they get blunt or damaged you only end up unpicking which doesn't save time at all!

d. Pressing
Pressing every seam is important and is easier and faster with the right equipment. My iron is a Rowenta with lots of steam and a million holes on the bottom as well as a special point for tight corners.
Check out my iron!

Some people get big gravity-feed irons to press faster and better but these take up more space. Instead I would suggest investing in pressing accessories: a tailor's ham is amazing to help press curves; sleeve boards make it easier to press seam in narrow tubes e.g. sleeves or childrens' trousers; clappers help set in the seam and press cloths prevent fabric scorching and thus recutting of fabric. The only one I don't yet have is a clapper, though I definitely want to get one, and here's why:
My ironing gear: large ironing board, old tatty sleeve board from a charity shop (50p!), tailor's ham and press cloths. 

4. Methods
a. Blocks/slopers, toiles/muslins, and reusing patterns
Making your own blocks takes an initial time outlay but saves a lot later. Having even a basic bodice block means you can take any pattern and quickly check there is enough space around the bust, that the bust dart actually ends at the apex of the bust, and that the shoulder slope is correct. These things are hard and/or annoying to alter once you've cut and started sewing! Using a block often means you don't need a toile/muslin.

If you don't have (or want to have) a block, making a toile is also useful, particularly if the garment has unusual features, your fabric is expensive, or ripped-out stitches would leave marks e.g. leather. I use cheap jerseys for testing out knit patterns and cut up old duvet covers from charity shops for patterns requiring woven fabric. Duvet covers give the most fabric for your money.

If you'd rather not do either, and jump straight into making things (and there's no shame in that!) one way to sew faster is to reuse a pattern several times as you know the fit and the sewing order already.

b. Pinning
Some sources advise using no pins while sewing. I think this really depends on how comfortable you are with the techniques e.g. curved seams as well as straight, armholes et cetera. I've seen articles suggesting using no pins while sewing in sleeves, but these are industrial machinists who do thousands. Personally I've moved from about 20 pins to 6 for a set-in sleeve, going with my comfort level and certainty that I won't have to unpick the whole thing again! Pinning is also very dependent on the fabric itself. If the two layers are flat and adhere to each other well with friction, you can easily forego pins; if one layer is shorter or the fabrics are slippery, use pins liberally. Again, the question is whether you are likely to have to unpick, losing the time you "saved" by not pinning.

c. Sewing order
One thing that has improved my speed and enjoyment of sewing is changing the sewing order and doing as much sewing as I can before stopping to press, trim etc. Instead of sewing a dress by making the bodice, then the skirt, then the sleeves, and pressing in between, do as many sewing steps as you can, then press as much as you can, then sew... It feels odd at first but does become second nature. While sewing, you can even "chain" the pieces by not cutting the threads in between until you finish sewing as much as you can. I have a small sewing desk and get confused by the resulting lump of pieces, but some people find this really helps their speed.

d. Specific techniques
There's not enough space here to discuss all the different techniques one can use when sewing. I like to read sewing blogs to get ideas and google specific techniques only on occasion. With each new technique, one must balance the time saved with the finished result. I recently made a knit skirt with a waistband containing wide elastic. I found a brilliant set of instructions for sewing a casing fast and neatly, so sometimes you can get lucky with both!

5. You
The usefulness of all of these tips depends on your skill and comfort levels and how much you wandt to push your boundaries. Just because you CAN sew fancy couture methods doesn't mean you have to every time. It's often nice to make a simple pattern with only a few pieces.

Find your mental blocks. If you hate cutting, why? Can you change your materials or processes or get someone else to do it? If you have fitting issues find a buddy to help. Figure out where your UFOs often halt and work through the issues.

Sew in small increments. If you only have ten minutes, do some stay stitching or change the needle and thread. Sometimes I will wind a bobbin while my baby's playing on her changing mat, or I'll simply position the next piece of fabric and put the needle down so that sewing can start immediately next time I have five minutes. Out of all the tips I've just written out, this by far is the reason I manage to sew so much now.

That's it! I hope you enjoyed reading.

A final gratuitous baby photo :) 

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Sew Small- and use up those scraps.

There are times when you need to think small. When you just can't face or don't have the space to make something that takes more than half a metre, when you are confronted with a growing pile of scraps that you cannot bear to throw out, when you need something small to take with you when travelling, when you want to play around with fabric - those are the times I am thinking about.  If you have small children for whom to sew you may have a ready outlet for this type of sewing - bibs, caps, coverall aprons for messy play, toys, pencil cases for school.  Cushion covers, pot holders, coasters  are all possibilities but there is a limit to the number you need for your own home. Thus I am pleased that I decided to take a doll-making class with the multi-talented Maria Anderson-Contreras, pictured here during a class break, at the end of November 2016.

That's my effort in the foreground on the way to completion .  All the materials needed were provided in the workshop so I didn't have to remember to take anything with me.  The doll pattern is simple as the the legs and arms are not separate pieces, here it is laid on calico ready to be cut out.

As directed I sewed around the doll, reinforcing the stitching at the necessary points, leaving a section unstitched at the top of the head where the stuffing would be inserted.  The face of the doll had been ready painted by Maria, there is no way that I could get such a lovely face.

My initial idea, when I booked the workshop, was that I could make dolls with the features of family and friends taken from photographs digitally printed on to the cloth but Maria pointed out that the proportions of the features on a doll are different to those of an adult and my idea would not work or be attractive.  Better start practising drawing faces!  Once I had clipped the seams in the appropriate places and turned the doll right side out, it was time to start stuffing.  This was made easier by using straight forceps to get the stuffing down the narrow arms and legs.  These are inexpensive items, £3- £5 depending on the length, available from medical suppliers and fishing tackle shops (they are used by anglers to get hooks out).

Hair is made from knitting yarn and applied with glue, although I used a combination of glue and stitching.  Once applied you can style the hair as you  wish, long tresses, plaits, a bob- the choice is yours.  I decided on a chignon.
Next it was time to make some clothes from the tiny patterns provided - a sleeveless top and a full gathered skirt with a ribbon tie at the back.  I only had time to get halfway with completing these- too much time chatting and tea drinking!  I intended to make these up swiftly but Christmas preparations and minor illnesses intervened and I have only just given the doll some clothes.  Here is the front and back views of her in the floral two piece I started in the workshop. I made a tulle petticoat to go underneath.

Here she is in casual gear, a cotton top (from the same top pattern but with extended arms and slightly looser fit) and denim skirt.
The tops are fastened with tiny strips of velcro and the skirt with a tiny press fastener. 
I am not happy with my attempt at shoes, made with red felt, so I will experiment further.  Meantime I am thinking of making her a shift dress in this bright striped jersey scrap - I am sure I will have fun playing about and sewing things for her. She can be my alter ego and wear all those items I no longer can or the styles I fantasise about. 

I may even become addicted to doll making, as Maria has.  Anyone interested in taking a workshop like this or having a personal lesson or commissioning a doll can find more information on Maria's web site 
And what about scraps of knitting yarn, as I know many of us knit as well.  My solution, a godsend in this frosty weather, has been to make Mobius Twist Headbands in crochet following the instructions on Youtube from Oana's crochet Channel .  You can make them as wide as you like and wear them with the twist in the front or back.  How my ears have thanked me for these, a few of which you can see below.  Even a beginner can make one quickly.

And finally, another cold weather scrap make - gloves.  They do not have to be one colour, in fact the more stripes the better in my opinion.  These are knitted on two pins using yarn of the same tension and I knit them both at the same time, using yarn from the beginning of the ball for one glove and the end of the ball for the other so the stripes will match in width and thus I do not have to calculate how much to use on each glove but just knit until there is not enough yarn left to complete a matching row on each glove.  They don't have to match at all and I am inclined to have odd coloured fingers in my next pair. Just remember to knit one shaped for the left hand and one for the right hand.

Anyone have any tips for using small pieces of fabric or knitting yarn?  Perhaps you can tell us about it in a comment below and then post a photo on our club web site in the Member's Makes  Album.