Fame and Glory!


This is just a mini post to express my excitement at having a blog post published by the Curvy Sewing Collective! WHOOP! This blog actually came about because I entered a competition to win a Myrtle dress pattern by Collette (didn’t win, drat) and Jenny of Cashmerette  and founder member of the really marvellous CSC was so nice about my writing I thought I would give a blog a bash. I love writing, and have attempted blogs on other subjects before (my marathon in 2012 being the most successful, but which still didn’t really enthuse me enough to keep it going. I mean really, how much can you write about the horror that is running? By the end I just wanted to write IHATEITIHATEIT) but nothing has really stuck. I was a bit loathe to start a sewing blog because there are so many out there, but I realised I love reading all of them and another wouldn’t hurt. Plus it’s a nice record of all my efforts, even if no-one reads it.

So from writing a little bit in a competition about how sewing made me feel good about my body and annoyed at the fashion industry, my blog, and a blog post for CSC were born.

The post is here: Hope you enjoy it!


A Colette Sorbetto for a hunk

My mum always used to tell me I would be the ideal Victorian woman. I was in fact, partially named after Queen Vic herself. Apparently when I was born, I looked ‘not amused’. But this was not why I was the ideal Victorian woman. No, that was because I had the shoulders of a goddess, according to the mores of the late 1800s.  I don’t really have shoulders: my neck kind of just slopes into my arms. Straps do not stay on these non-shoulders: I am forever hefting bra and vest straps up and using willpower to try and keep them there. In essence, my shoulders are too small. My mum tried to make me feel better about my endless strappy top woes by telling me a gently curving, small ladylike shoulder was a sign of Victorian gentility, that it meant I had not been toiling in the fields all day. I’m not sure why she thought Victorian gentility was what I would be pleased by: as yet another strap fell down by my elbows, I seriously considered a career as a farm labourer. If it was possible, I would become an olympian swimmer, so I could get firm broad shoulders that would keep my bloody straps up all day.

Navy blue Victorian evening dress with short sleeves and sloping shoulders

The type of Victorian Shoulders I possess

But I digress. Why am I telling you this? I am telling you this because I made a top that was very pretty, but which did not cater at all for my non-shoulders. But I am so glad I did, because, as with all these things I am making at the moment, they aren’t so much wearable items as educational projects, and with each new thing I make, I learn one or two more skills, or I identify skills that I need to learn for later projects. (I wear what I make anyway, even if it is a bit weird because bloody hell, I’ve put enough blood sweat and tears into it!).

So what is this project, and what did I learn?

Floral cotton vest top with bias binding round neck and shoulders

The Colette Sorbetto, as made by Colette for a person with Shoulders

A few weeks back I made myself the (FREEEEEEE!) Colette Sorbetto top. If you haven’t discovered Colette yet, you need to, and a good place to start is by downloading their free PDF pattern for the Sorbetto. Colette patterns are wonderful, as unlike standard sewing patterns, they are written in normal English, with clear, educational instructions and lots of pictures. They are also beautifully packaged and presented, offer and wide range of really fashionable, flattering styles, and are modelled by women of all sizes. Some patterns go up to size 3XL (which for Britishers like me is about a size 26-28). The website is super cool, and has regular sewalongs, lots of advice and a great newsletter full of top tips. So, I love Colette.

Enough gushing. What did I learn?

1: PDF patterns are an arse. This was free, so I can’t complain, but cutting out and assembling 8 pieces of A4 paper, matching lines exactly, was tedious, and the finished pattern pieces are rigid, opaque and likely to fall apart when your sellotape dries out. You also need a lot of space to put the pieces together. The Sorbetto is pretty much one of the easiest and simplest patterns in the whole world, and I still found assembling the pattern from a digital file tiresome. I would not want to do this with a more complicated pattern. I personally think it is well worth splashing out for tissue patterns (though of course they are also extremely annoying and take up space: they at least do not need to be assembled and sellotape is not involved), unless of course it would cost loads to import a pattern from abroad. Colette is an American company, but I have found at least one company that sells her tissue paper patterns in their gorgeous packaging at a reasonable price from the UK.

2. I love bias binding. Oh goodness it makes things look so neat, and retro, and colourful. It is really easy to put on, and makes your hems, necklines and armholes so nice and professional.  I am now compulsively buying bias binding in all the colours (alongside all the fabrics and all the patterns: sewing can be very expensive) to add a flash of cheerfulness to my creations.

3. I can’t really just sew a pattern without making some adjustments. One of the major reasons to start sewing your own clothes is to actually own clothes that fit you, and not a random mannequin in a factory. I sewed the size 18 straight up in a cheap and pretty polycotton with contrast binding.

A Colette Sorbetto as modelled by shoulderless me

A Colette Sorbetto as modelled by shoulderless me

It’s a nice and wearable top, but it could have been so much better if I added a couple of inches of length at the bottom and if I had known that such things as Full Bust Adjustments and Narrow Shoulder Adjustments existed, and in fact, could both be done at the same time. As it was, when I cut out the fabric I could see that this was going to pull a bit across the bust, so I just made my centre pleat a bit narrower, which is fine, but I would have liked a wide pleat. I Then realised this wasn’t enough so added a 3 inch extension panel in the back, so could have probably kept my pleat a normal width. I would also have liked the straps to sit on my shoulders, and narrowing the pleat in the centre and adding a few inches at the back actually meant they sat even further out than normal. The bias binding also tipped inwards due to the extra fabric around the neckline. An FBA would have solved my problems a lot better.

Inside view of garment back panel seams

The pattern was very busy, so it was easy to put a panel in the panel without anyone noticing (can you see?), but boy did that wreak havoc on my decolletage

Still, it’s a great, easy and wearable pattern, and one I will definitely make again, with the adjustments I know are possible. I am attempting both these adjustments right now for a wax print cotton summer dress, and I definitely haven’t got them quite right. The Full Bust adjustment has worked a dream, but the narrow shoulder adjustment just seems to have narrowed the strap a bit, rather than bringing it closer in towards my neck. Still, it’s a start, and I am learning all the time. One day, I will have a strap that stays on the shoulders Queen Vic herself would be proud of.

The first sack-like but triumphant item

I made my first dress in January this year. My mum had bought me this beautiful sewing machine from John Lewis for Christmas and I was keen to get started. I can’t say what really provoked me to ask for a sewing machine: I have wanted one for years, but always told myself I wouldn’t make time for sewing, that it would just clutter up the place, that I wouldn’t know how to use it properly. I had sewn some pretty appalling items of ‘clothing’ as a teenager: rainbow hologram rubberized A-line maxi skirt with no waistband anyone? Yes; I did just sew a giant open ended cone and not hem or finish anything. I wore it out of the house too. I hadn’t sewn since then, but I had recently joined the Women’s Institute, and rediscovered my hands, and the things I could make with them. I tried quilling, cupcake icing and origami. I had a fun time with jewellery making, and bought all the stuff to make that become my new hobby (So.Many.Beads). I had fun for a while, and made everyone jewellery for Christmas whether they liked it or not, but personally, I can’t be bothered to wear jewellery much, and there are only so many slightly dodgily made earrings you can give to people. I soon ran out of steam. And then the sewing machine landed, and the first technicolour sack was created.

A colourful rather unflattering a-line dress

The sack

The fabric is amazing non? The shape is less amazing (and I really have no idea what dreadful bra I was wearing: oh dear, apologies). The finishing is definitely not amazing. I would photo them hems but they might make you cry. Really, they would. Not actually having looked at a sewing pattern before I ordered Simplicity 1800 as my first pattern.  Pretty huh? It said it would be an ‘amazing fit’, so that must mean it must be a breeze to make, and then, ta da! An amazing fit! And then I looked at the pattern, and the instructions, and the sizing and felt like screaming. There were so many bits, I appeared to be 6 sizes bigger than I thought I was (more of that later) and the instructions could have been been written in Arabic for all the sense they made to me. I freaked out at the concept of ‘right sides’ and ‘wrong sides’ so that shows you my level of understanding.  After cutting out all the fabric and staring at the piece and instructions blankly for what seems like aeons, my friend Elona who lived upstairs came to the rescue. Elona had been on a sewing course recently, and knew what interfacing and hem allowances were, and she gently suggested I shelve the 1800 and maybe, just maybe, get a simpler pattern. So the pattern for the sack arrived. The sack is better known as Burda 7100. And so under my friend’s expert supervision I cut out two pieces of fabric and sewed them together. With my whizzy sewing machine. I didn’t lose any fingers. I understood what the right and wrong sides were (Elona told me). I even badly put some interfacing around the neckline. I hemmed it. I wore it! I mean, The arm holes are way too small, and it is, err, a pretty shapeless sack, but the fact is, I made a garment, with my sewing machine, that covers my body, doesn’t fall to pieces even after washing it, and even looks a bit like a dress when I put a belt with it.  I then made another one in some kind of crazy hi viz waterproof chevron stretch fabric that I had bought off ebay (I was compulsively buying fabrics even before I had sewn my first stitch on my new sewing machine: this compulsion continues at a pace). This version even had about three gathers and a wonkily sewn stomach panel on it. Awful hems again (I didn’t know about zig zag stitch or twin needles for stretch), but better sized arm holes and wearable! neon sack This my friends, is a triumph. It whet my appetite to make more things that look a bit less like vegetable storage, more like clothing. I was hooked, and a little google introduced me to the wonderful world of sewing blogs, independent pattern makers and the Collette Sorbetto. (See next post)

That’s it! No clothes buying until 2015

I have way too many clothes. 2 large wardrobes full and two chests of drawers. I’m a bit of a hoarder and probably half my wardrobe is made up of ‘incentive clothes’ or ‘memory clothes’ which are waaay too small to me, but which remind me of a long-lost slimmer time. This, I know is foolish. I have got bigger in the last couple of years, so pretty much had to replace my small wardrobe with a whole bigger sized one. Unfortunately I still hung on to the tiny clothes, so have doubled the space I need. My husband is appalled at me. My wardrobe is ridiculous, but yet, I have been unable to stop myself from buying more clothes in the hope that they will somehow make me feel as stylish as I did when I was slimmer. They don’t fit in there, they are often cheap and in stretch fabrics or unflattering ‘big girl’ shapes, and usually are deeply unethical and mass produced by people working in awful conditions for little money. This compulsive buying has not made me feel any better about my place in the world, or my contribution to it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m generally a very happy and healthy person, but my attitude to clothes, size and beauty, like many women, has been somewhat skew-whiff. I think compared to a lot of girls, small or large, I am ok, I don’t have any major body hang ups (even though many people might think I should). I am happy to be seen by everyone in a swimming costume and wear the things I want to, however ludicrous they are. Hot pink strappy jumpsuits are my friend. But the compulsive buying, which is often tinged with a strange nebulous desperation, a hope that this thing, this one thing will make me feel like I used to when I was smaller, needs to stop. Post internet shopping guilt as another package of cheap and nasty clothes arrives from ASOS has been my companion for too long.

I started off by initiating a ‘one in, one out’ policy with clothes buying. If I bought something new, I had to send an old thing to the charity shop. Inevitably this would need to be something too small that I hadn’t worn for five years. This went some way towards my accepting that I wasn’t going to get back to being a size 14 any time soon, and even if I did, I would probably want a new wardrobe, not one that was half a decade out of date. It did not however assuage my guilt at contributing to an oppressive system of fashion production which exploited men, women and children producing cheap clothes in factories abroad, and which often humiliated and marginalised women here in the western world.

And then I discovered sewing. And even though I have only really been doing it for a couple of months, already it has done three huge things for me:

1) Stopped me from passively endorsing a hideous fashion industry at a cost to human dignity everywhere.

2) Allowed me to discover a creative and practical side of me that had lain dormant since school.(and err, spend hours and hours and too much money browsing beautiful fabrics online, but more of that later)

3) Allowed me to realise that my body can not be defined by a clothes size. It is unique, ever changing and marvellous, and I can make clothes that rejoice in that, rather than try and apologise for something shameful or which make me look like I’m trying to be something I’m not.

Sewing allows me to be a much better me. And this blog is going to chart my successes and cock-ups in learning everything that actually Making Stuff can do for a person and their place in the world. And I’m not going to buy any high street clothes until next year. And if all goes well, I won’t buy any in 2015 either. Apart from jumpers. I hate knitting. And shoes. I can’t make shoes. But everything else, me made or nuthin.

no shopping

(I promise that future blog posts won’t be as grandiose as this one, and will mainly focus on wonky hems and bias binding, but for now, I am filled with joy and wonder and enthusiam for my new hobby, and I just had to get it out there!)