Friday, 27 March 2015

Printing by the metre

Hand printed fabric by the metre is an idea that has been in my head for a long time and now that I have developed a brand that can be expanded upon I have started to jot down some designs. This is still a work in progress, but I hope not too far from an 'actual' product.

My aim is to produce some very (very) small runs of fabric suitable for dress making and each will be unique in it's own right. I guess I'm playing out my artistic ambitions on fabric! :-)

I'm yet to find a repeatable source of suitable fabrics to print on, but will start out with a few small bits I already have and go from there. Going forward it would be great to be able to print on fair trade and/or organic fabrics, so am really looking into this as a possibility and also need to iron out a few tech issues with the care of hand printed fabrics. Currently I am experiencing fading after the first wash, which I am looking to reduce. It's realistic to expect fading, but I'm currently trying to assess how much is acceptable.

Anyway, that's what I'm up to and getting my hands very dirty in the process. All a bit scary and new, but it's an addition that's really getting my creativity flowing, which I am more than happy about!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Being an independant designer

I wanted to talk about what it is like being a newly established independent sewing pattern designer for those who are curious. I am obviously fairly new to this business in terms of setting up a label, but it has been a long held ambition to design and work for myself. So here's my story so far since releasing my first pattern in October last year.

So, what has it actually been like since launching my first pattern?

Well, to be honest it is slooooow. I am small fry in the blogging world and with just over 250 followers on bloglovin have a pretty small reach. That combined with the fact that I do absolutely no marketing and a lot of new independent designers are also popping up means that it is unlikely to become an overnight success. The competition is definitely strong!

Have I entered into an already over saturated market?

I don't think so. Obviously I lean towards a certain point of view which supports my choices, but there is always room for new ideas and talent. I would say that if you are considering setting up a new pattern label, be prepared to work for free for a while (unless you already have customers lined up). If you have a strong brand identity that you can build on then hopefully patience and hard work will serve you well.

Why do I do it?

I do it because it is something that I feel passionate about (very important to keep up momentum) and I also love to share my work. I sew from a variety of pattern sources, but mainly have always self-drafted. I also love using vintage patterns from a style point of view and occasionally the big 4, but always come back to self-drafting.

What qualifies me as a pattern designer?

From the time I started sewing as a young teenager I was drafting my own patterns, but then I went to study fashion and textile design where I had formal training and now have a much more rounded sense of what I can achieve and what is best practice. I have received emails asking it is possible to design sewing patterns for sale without training and my response is this; nothing is easy, but anything is possible. You can teach yourself at home from books, but need to be very disciplined and organised with your approach. Accuracy and perfectionism is essential for any pattern maker. Some experience with a trained pattern cutter is advisable, as books can only take you so far in my opinion. You miss out on the passion of an experienced voice and also the helpful hints and tips, but if I've learnt anything over the years then never underestimate the power of determination. Basically, if you really want to make something work then you will find a way.

What next?

Well, I'll keep going and building up my collection of designs and hopefully people will get to know and trust my brand and know what to expect from me. There is no denying that there is a lot of work involved, but I am lucky that I can currently fit it around kids naps and evenings (I mean every nap and evening BTW) and, most importantly, I really love it.

Obviously this is only my experience and I don't know how it compares with other new designers, but if you are considering going down a similar path then it gives you an idea of what to expect. I think that was one of the hardest things to gauge really or what first reaction to expect, but it is all a learning experience.

For anyone looking for further tips there was a really useful post written by Tilly shortly after the release of my first pattern here. It actually really helped to make me feel calm about things and not get over anxious about slow/no sales. If you're in it for the long haul then take it as it comes and trust your instinct ;-)

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Hand woven Evan skirt - View A

Pattern making can be very wasteful at times. First of all you have to make the pattern, which if you are trying a new shape does not often work first time and then you have to make sample garments to test the fit and detailing. Again, if you are trying a new shape then this can take several tweaks before it's how you envisaged. For my coat pattern this was especially true, as there seemed to be a lot of minor changes before I was happy to say it was ready for grading.

For this most recent pattern (the Evan skirt) I made a conscious decision that I wanted to avoid this cycle and only made two test garments before cracking into some good fabric. The two test pieces were made from some surplus vintage cotton from ebay (don't worry nothing amazing) and then I sewed up this chambray version, which needed tweaking still, but functions perfectly as is. The following versions (3 in all) were all made up from fabric that was re-purposed with the exception of this one.

This is the only fabric bought specifically for this pattern and it's an ethical, low environmental impact, hand woven denim. It's this one here from Merchant and Mills and is the same I used for my hand sewn jeans. I am consciously trying to be a more environmentally friendly sewer, which means that I will do my best, but I'm not sure how far this will stretch just yet. Now more about the skirt!

I love wearing this denim version with a chambray shirt, but I also love how it looks with my tan leather boots and bright red sweatshirt. I am doing my best here to imitate Farrah Fawcett in this amazing photo I found on Pinterest, but I don't look great in trainers with skirts. If I did then I would be reaching for the Nike Cortez (incidentally these are too narrow for my fat feet)!!!

This is a straight up View A and is thicker than the recommended fabric. The pin tucks are a lot less sharp looking because the fabric is not only thicker, but also very soft and drapey, but I don't think I could be unhappy with anything about this if I tried.

 I sewed two buttons onto my waistband. Large one on the front with the thread going through the little one on the reverse side. I just felt it was more secure somehow on an area that can get a lot of stress depending on how much I've eaten!

The beauty of this fabric is that I have a pretty red selvedge on the fly front and centre back seam.

I even had enough left to make the shortest length Maya top. I was literally left with tiny scraps and had to patchwork a bit of contrast denim in at the back, but I'm stupidly excited about donning the double denim.

Lovely denim nubbly bits!

Now, this style of this skirt lends itself perfectly to denim type fabrics and is probably what first springs to mind when you get a closer look at the detail, but let me assure you that the testers made some beautiful versions and really surprised me with their choices. If they pop up on any blogs then I will be pinning them here, so keep your eyes peeled.

Evan skirt pattern release

I've just been putting the final touches to my skirt pattern and I'm happy to say it is done! Here is the Evan skirt. It has a retro seventies appeal with a hint of the nineties thrown in for good measure, which as a seventies baby (tail end of) and nineties teenager/young adult is not really that surprising.

What's that, just another skirt pattern??? Well yes I guess it is really, but it's got so much to give. Pockets, check! Belt loops, check! Zip fly, check, check, check!!!
Here's the description from the pattern instruction's, so that you can get to know this skirt a bit more.
This style is a classic a-line skirt with back yoke, fly front fastening and front/back pockets. The waistband is curved for a flattering fit and sits at the natural waist. There are two different length options with interchangeable details as per below.

View A - This option hits just below the knee and key features are the front split and pin tuck pocket details.

View B - An ankle length skirt with plain pockets and belt loops at the waist.
It can basically fit in with a variety of dress styles and you can swap around the pocket and front split details to suit you.
There are more details regarding suitable fabrics and available sizes etc in my Etsy shop, but I will be back to tell you more about the versions I have made and share some inspiration, so stay tuned!
Right, I'll leave you with this last shot and I'll see you later! xxx

Monday, 9 March 2015

Freemantle round neckline mods

Referring back to my last post where I showed you my new spring coat I shall now run through the changes I made to the paper pattern, although it may come as no surprise to you that I have a similar looking coat in the works. It is something I have been designing and working on since I made this Maya coat, but will not be ready until later in the year. Why am I telling you this? Well, if pattern adjustments aren't your thing then there is a pattern on it's way (although it won't be exactly the same).

The below modifications aren't complicated, they just require some quality time with a pencil and a ruler.

A quick overview of the changes:
  1. Optional - Lengthen the sleeve by 5cm
  2. Optional - Lengthen the body by 10cm
  3. Optional - Add a 1.5cm centre back seam
  4. Lengthen the centre front line to draw in a new round neck line
  5. Make new facings
  6. Optional - Mark the position for back split
  7. Mark button placement
Note - You can either make the changes to the existing pattern pieces, taping on more paper as needed, or you can completely retrace the pattern pieces making the changes as you trace.

First of all I lengthened the body and arm as per the above measurements using the lengthen/shorten lines included on the pattern. Re-draw the side seam and sleeve seam line from underarm to hem after lengthening. This is completely personal preference as I wanted a longer length and a back split, but you can skip this stage if you just want to get to the round neck bit!

Next mark the 1.5cm seam allowances on the armhole edges of the front, back and sleeve pattern piece as well as adding a 1.5cm allowance to the centre back ready for creating a back split.

 Pin or tape the sleeve to the front and back pattern piece with the seam allowances lined up as per the following diagram. Fold and tape the dart closed and extend the coat front edge up to where you want the new neckline to be. You can either draw a new neckline in freehand or use an existing one you know you like. For reference I used the Maya dress neckline as it is quite wide and I didn't want it sitting too close to my neck.

If using a neckline from an existing pattern then mark the seam allowances of the shoulder and neckline. For the fronts match the centre fronts of both patterns and and either raise up or down until the shoulder/neck point meets the shoulder dart line of the coat. Do the same with the back and draw in your new neckline.

Extend the centre front/grainline up to the new neckline so it is there as a reference point for your button placement.

Whilst all your pattern pieces are taped together in this way re-draw a new facing for the front and neck edge. Use the existing facing pieces as a guide for the width of the new facings and blend them together between the neckline and the front edge. Mark the position of the armhole seams and shoulder dart so that you can make notches to aid your sewing. This will be a one piece facing with a centre back seam.

Mark the position of your centre back split. Mine was about 25cm from the bottom edge. I left the seam straight, but folded the seam allowance back at an angle from the end of the back seam to the bottom edge so that the split edges don't meet.

Other than that I marked the new button placements about 13cm apart I think and sewed the buttonholes according to the size of the buttons. The outside edge of the buttonhole is in line with the centre front of the coat and the buttonhole extends towards the armhole from there (if that makes sense).

As touched upon in my previous post, I bound the centre back seams open, but the rest of the seams were bound together. The seams may look a bit like maze when it comes to the binding, but I started by doing the sleeve seams up to the gusset, the front armhole down to the underarm and then the back armhole down to the hem. 

The top of the welt was topstitched down from the front to keep it against the coat front. This is instead of hand stitching and more appropriate for an unlined coat. Don't look too closely at my embarrassingly poor stitching!!!

The bottom hem allowance was kept as per the instructions and simply topstitched down and the lengthened sleeves were finished with bias tape on the ends and rolled up a couple of times instead of a traditional hem finish. You would need to make a facing if you wanted to hem the sleeves properly because of the tapered ends.

Is this enough info? If you want to have a go at this, but get stuck then give me a shout and I'll try to help!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Big spring coat!

I'm not quite done with this coat thing! This might be my most perfect me-made coat yet!!!

A coat for Spring is what I was after, so going back to my Freemantle coat pattern (yet again, sorry peeps) I went about adapting it for a lighter weight coat. I didn't change much other than creating a round neckline, but did lengthen the coat and sleeves as well as adding a back split. I shall go into details of the modifications in another post though as it's too much to go into today.


The dreamy fabric that I used for this coat was sent to me by a very dear friend (yes, you Lucy). It is a very good quality brushed cotton drill fabric and is so thick and soft it is totally perfect. Apparently it is used by Barbour and I can well believe that, so you could say that I now have a Barbour coat!!! I was very careful not to mis-use this on an unworthy project and used every last scrap to make this (I literally had to piece scraps together for one of the pocket facings).

 I am a long term lover of the parka coat and the night I met my husband was also the night I lost my most favourite parka ever :-(. You win some you lose some I guess! I have been searching for a replacement in the 6 years since, but have never quite met it's match. Could this be it? It's not got a hood like my old one, but it's long, dark, and completely covers my clothes. I know some people don't like clothes that swamp them or hide their bodies, but I like to be completely cocooned in a coat when I leave the house.

I added a back split for some subtle parkaness.

The buttons were vintage ones from my stash and were obviously waiting for this coat to be made.

Pretty insides! I only bound the (newly created) centre back seam open and bound all other seams together.

The sleeves are bias bound on the ends and simply rolled up for a casual cuff finish.

I topstitched the top edge of the welt pocket to attach it to the coat front. I did this instead of catch stitching, as I don't like catch stitching to a single layer of fabric and this pattern calls for underlining, which I didn't do.

 Am I done with coats? I think so, but  have been pinning some belted coats similar to the wide sleeve silhouette below and it makes me want to try this pattern up as a dress.

So, some pattern mods to follow, but the weather is getting springy and I think that some lighter clothes are on the sewing menu in the near future. Anyone else making Spring coats?

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Hand printed Ilsley skirt

In case you didn't catch the last post, this is my new free pattern the Ilsley skirt! This next version has been put together a little differently to the instructions, which is what I'm going to run through. It's not vastly different, but the waistband has been made up as an entire piece and then attached to the skirt instead of being constructed onto the skirt. Oh, and there is some bias edging to the hem and a little bit of printing!!!

I wanted this pattern and a good clean finish to be accessible to everyone with just a standard straight stitch, which means that everything is enclosed. The question I asked myself was can my mum sew this on her machine? If the answer was yes then it must be ok! For this version I have ignored that and cracked open the overlocker and sewn plain seams. I haven't photo documented this part of the construction, but the insides are fairly standard.

The first change to construction was the hem. Rather than a double turning I bound the edge with a self fabric binding. I was thinking of doing a black contrast, but thought it may look a bit harsh, so chickened out and went for matching instead.

This is how I did it...

I cut two strips of bias fabric each long enough to complete the hem edge measuring 4cm wide.

In the absence of a bias binding maker I made it manually like so...

I pressed the fabric strip in half length wise, pressed the edges in to meet the newly pressed centre fold and finally folded the strip in half again to create my bias tape.

There are many ways to attach bias binding, but for this I stitched both the reverse and right side in one go. I did this because I find it easier to assess the curve this way and ensure that I neither over ease nor over stretch the tape. I pinned it first and then topstitched in place from the right side. The tape just tails off about 2cm above the seam notch and I have pinned where the (now hidden) notch is positioned.

Once stitched in place I snipped off the bias tail, but at an angle and not too close to the notch. In this instance, because I didn't remove the hem allowance before sewing the bias binding to the hem, the side seam extended beyond the notch, but it is still good to pin it's position for lining up the back and the front when sewing your side seam.

I topstitched the side seam down on the bias tape so that it is directed towards the skirt back. It just gave a neater finish this way.

The other change I made was to the waistband. I attached it differently as well as adding a faux front tie. The tie is attached to the side seams and pulled through some buttonholes on the front waistband.

Mark the centre front of the waistband. I found the centre of the width by folding the front waistband in half lengthways and measuring 2.5cm down from the fold and then folded the waistband in half widthways to find the centre front. Mark this point with a cross.

Mark two 1.5cm buttonholes, 1.5cm away from the centre cross approx.

Iron on a scrap of interfacing to the back of where the buttonholes will be and stitch them according to your machine settings.

Sew the two side seams of your waistband and cut two ties the width of your front waistband (enough to make a nice bow at the front). Machine stitch the ties flat to the waistband side seam allowance in line with the buttonholes.

Thread the tie through the buttonhole. I used a cream cotton tape for my ties BTW.

Make up your elastic band and insert into waistband folded in half lengthways. bring the long edges together and pin closed with the pins close to the elastic, but not through it.

Overlock the two edges together around the entire waistband. I'm not getting confused about my machines as the below is obviously my sewing machine, but I was just using it for the light.

Pin your made up waistband to the top of the skirt right sides together. Use your fingers to push the elastic away from the overlocked edge and pin the fabric allowance only to the skirt.

Change your machine foot to your zipper foot with the needle positioned to the left of it and sew the seam with a 1cm allowance.

As well as stitching in the ditch on the side seams, stitch a short line just between the waistband ties to further prevent the elastic from shifting. This will be covered by the ties anyway, so is just a little extra assurance.

That's it the done and this is what the inside of your waistband should look like!
A brief overview of the print in case you're not too bored!
After I cut out all my skirt pieces and before I started making the skirt I used some of my stamps to make a border print and pocket facing.
For the border print I just did four rows of the rubber triangle strip, which is a pre-bought stamp (but no longer available), which was then finished with one row of the arrows. The arrow stamp is a shape cut from soft cut lino using a scalpel and glued to a wooden block. It is not carved so was pretty quick to make and the depth means that it prints a bit cleaner on fabric rather than always marking the fabric with the block. I just dab some screen printing ink onto my blocks and push down onto the fabric (which is laid on a hard surface).


Now, this is pretty naïve looking and not perfectly straight, but I'm ok with that! I think that the moment you start to relax about the imperfections (as a non-expert) it becomes a whole lot more enjoyable. Also, because it's black ink on grey chambray the smudges are less obvious ;-)

For the pocket facing I just randomly stamped with this rubber stamp from my toddler sons art box!

That's about it really! Here are some more pics of the skirt on, but I was not it the mood today, so there were slim pickings of pictures I could actually reveal. Oh the woes of being a sewing blogger!!!

In case you're interested, any print, knit or general embellishment I'm doing on clothes at the moment is directly inspired by an old Guatemalan skirt of my mums. It's an attempt to create further cohesion within my wardrobe and is a personal quest. As if a wardrobe of predominantly striped, denim and chambray isn't cohesive enough!!!
Here's a sneak at the knitwear I'm currently working on!