Saturday, 10 December 2016

Winter red Betty Dress

Head over to the Minerva Crafts Blogger Network to check out my first make - a long-sleeved version of the Sew Over It Betty Dress, just in time for Christmas. Don't forget, you can still get a 10% discount on all dressmaking fabric. Just go to the Minerva Crafts site and enter SEWINGADVENTURES at the checkout. It's valid until the end of the year (one use per customer).

If you enjoy the Minerva Crafts Blogger Network, why not vote for them in this year's British Sew Awards? All the details are here. Voting closes on 12th December.

Happy sewing, and Merry Christmas! xxx

Friday, 18 November 2016

And the winner is...

Congratulations to Siona Worrall, you have won a £50 fabric hamper from the lovely folk at Minerva Crafts. Enjoy!

For those of you that didn't win, there is a 10% discount code available on all their dressmaking fabrics. Just head to the Minerva Crafts site and enter SEWINGADVENTURES at the checkout. It's valid until the end of the year (one use per customer).

Happy sewing x

Thursday, 3 November 2016

£50 fabric hamper giveaway

The lovely people at Minerva Crafts are giving away a £50 fabric hamper to one lucky person. All you have to do is visit the Minerva Crafts site and let us know the fabric that is top of your wish list. Enter your details below. The winner will be selected on Friday 18th November. Good luck!

Your details will not be passed to any 3rd parties except for the purposes of sending out the prize.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

New adventures

I love autumn. It's my favourite time of year. Possibly because I have a September birthday, or possibly because I work for a university and autumn means the start of the academic year. I also loved the start of the school year in a geeky kind of way - new shoes, conkers and unmarked exercise books. Whatever the reason, I always have a spurt of energy to start new things at this time of year. Colder weather and the nights drawing in are also perfect for staying in and sewing.

I have neglected my blog recently one one reason or another (I won't bore you will tales of work and illness). I also thought I had neglected my sewing, but actually looking through photos of the last few months I've made quite a lot.

Recent makes

Kids' apron (Simple Sewing magazine)
Betty dress (Sew Over It)

Flo dress (free pattern)

Sophia skirt (Simple Sew patterns)

Margot pyjamas (Love at First Stitch)

Popover Sundress (Oliver+S free pattern)

Coco top (Tilly and the Buttons)

Megan dress (Love at First Stitch)

New ventures

Looking ahead to the next few months, I am very excited to be working with Minerva Crafts through their blogger network. I have my next three makes planned using some of their beautiful fabrics: a Christmas version of the Betty dress, a Breton stripe Coco top and a Sew Over It ultimate pencil skirt. There will be a brilliant fabric giveaway coming soon too. I can't wait to get started!

I am also working on a new children's pattern for Love Sewing magazine.

Watch this space x

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Lovely, lovely fabric shopping

A couple of weeks ago I went on a fabrictastic shopping trip to Goldhawk Rd (Shepherd's Bush, West London) organised by the lovely Janet of Kitchen Table Sewing. It was a great day, with great people, and I'd like to share my highlights and fabric finds.

My new fabric destination of choice

Although I know Shepherd's Bush reasonably well, I'd never really explored the fabric shopping potential of Goldhawk Rd. Oh my, what a treasure trove. So many shops, stacked floor to ceiling with every fabric you can think of (except possibly brushed cotton it turns out). Basements with bargain bolts of chambray, top floor nooks with baskets of off-cuts, behind-the-counter Liberty silk treasures. It's fair to say we didn't get much further than the tube station, although it felt like we'd covered a lot of ground! Perhaps next time I'll start at the other end and work my way backwards.

Fabric finds

My first purchase was 4.5m of this lovely navy and white floral cotton, earmarked for a Sew Over It Betty Dress. Pretty pleased with the £4.99 a metre price tag.

Up next we have 2m of this mustard ponte roma, looking likely to become another Tilly and the Buttons Coco Top (when I've adjusted the shoulders on the pattern a little).

Really pleased with the 2m of Liberty tana lawn I bought for £9.50 a metre. I think this came from last year's collection and I'm a bit torn whether to make indulgent PJs for myself or a dress for Flo. I'm waiting on my Simplicity Sewing Challenge pattern to arrive, so that might make my decision for me.

I went on the trip looking for a fabric for this fab Deer & Doe shirt pattern. Really pleased to find this soft Chambray tucked away in a basement, and an extra half a metre for free too. Should be enough extra for some shorts for Eddie.

This 1.8m cotton off-cut I bought for £6. Gorgeous colours. Again, may become holiday PJs or possibly a dress for Flo.

I was really pleased to find this dinosaur fabric for Eddie. I got just over a metre as it was the end of a bolt, and a little under a metre of brilliantly colour-matched jersey (it was damaged, so I managed a bit of haggling there). This will eventually become dinosaur PJs for Eddie using my new self-drafted patten (blog post on that coming soon).

And finally

Although our numbers were a bit depleted after all that hardcore fabric shopping, a few of us finished the day at Liberty for a very civilised afternoon tea.

A final stop at the Liberty haberdashery for a Betty Dress pattern and buttons. Oh, and a little treat of a Merchant & Mills tape measure and pins.

It was a thoroughly lovely day and a superb bag of swag to bring home. Right, I'd better get sewing some of these projects so I can justify my next trip. January shopping trip anyone?

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sewing, technology and self-directed learning

I recently wrote a blog post for work. My day job is as a Senior Technology-Enhanced Learning Designer at The Open University. I was interested in reflecting on the self-directed learning methods I'd been using in teaching myself sewing/dressmaking skills. In particular,  what I could learn from that to apply to the way we develop our teaching materials at the OU. As the boundaries between informal and formal learning become increasingly blurred, so too do my boundaries between work, personal life and the sewing community. So I'm sharing this for anyone that might be interested, from whatever angle.

In early 2014 I decided I wanted to develop my basic sewing skills and learn about dressmaking and garment construction. A little over two years later I am making wearable clothes (for myself and others), designing patterns for magazine publication, writing a regular blog and contributing to an exciting online community through social media. While the skills I am learning belong more to an art and design curriculum than the traditional OU subject areas, I have found it interesting to reflect back on my self-directed learning journey and what has made it successful.

Task-based learning
I took a deliberately active approach to learning, launching myself almost immediately into a simple project, drawing on theory, online skills tutorials or reference books only when I got stuck. I was careful not to take on overly ambitious projects, but to stretch myself enough each time to learn something new. I have made conscious decisions about what I wanted to be able to do, and then selected projects that would get me there.

Blended approach
I have used a variety of different media to learn from. Print, in the form of printed patterns, books and magazines have been very useful reference points while working on the more practical aspects of each project. I have also drawn on video, blogs and online tutorials to supplement these. Online tutorials have been particularly useful in developing Adobe Illustrator skills when designing my own patterns. I have also attended two real-life workshops (8 hours each). These were mostly an opportunity to practise the skills I’d been developing on my own and get some help where I needed it (finally getting my head around invisible zips!). It was also great to sew with others and start to build up a network.

Flexible learning
As this learning journey was very much a personal one, unlike OU modules, I haven’t had had a study planner to stick to or assessment deadlines looming. However, I have been very motivated and had to fit my learning around a full-time job and young family, very much like OU students. Weekday evenings have become very important for this, and the odd weekend afternoon or day of leave. It’s amazing where you can fit things in if you really want to: 30 minutes reading over lunch, a podcast in the car on the way to work, keeping a regular eye on relevant social media feeds during quiet moments.

This is an interesting one. Initially I thought “well, there is no assessment for this type of learning”. But then I realised that I’d actually created assessment points for myself through the magazine submissions. There’s a process of self-drafting a pattern, making up a sample and then sending photos to the relevant magazines. When you get an acceptance, you’re given a deadline, a template to work to and often the materials to work with. You then have to make the garment again, taking good quality photos at each stage, writing step-by-step instructions for others to use and then put together the pattern pieces in multiple sizes options. All to a strict deadline. You also get feedback – from readers and bloggers who review your pattern. It feels very much like the processes involved in traditional assessment, but its authenticity makes it much more enjoyable.

Personal learning network
This has been really important to me. Building up a network of supportive, like-minded people to chat to about dressmaking challenges or offer feedback to has made the whole process much more social. The contacts I’ve built up have been through meeting people at workshops, friends of friends and other bloggers, designers and crafters. My online profile has been central to building an appropriate online presence in this area.

Social media and learning from feedback
I’ve discovered Instagram to be the social media platform of choice for a lot of sewing folk. Its photo-based format really lends itself to sharing makes/designs and getting feedback. It is a very friendly and supportive online community, with feedback taking a very constructive tone.

Writing a personal blog has been a great way to reflect on my experiences and things I’ve learnt. When I started writing it I had no idea how I’d use it, but I’ve really got into the swing of writing up a blog post after each project. I’ve loved promoting each post on various social media platforms and delving into the analytics of where and how the blog gets read.

Life-long learning
Although I’d like to consider myself now an intermediate-level dressmaker, I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning. There is always a new project, a new design to create and other people’s creativity to admire.

So, is any of this relevant to the OU context? What expectations do our learners bring with them to their studies? Are some of our students teaching themselves new skills in a similar way? Are there any different approaches we could adopt or trial? Would a more active, task-based approach be appropriate for some of our modules? What about a more central role for social media? Or a blog? Or more authentic assessment? And should we take a more holistic approach to the learning our students take part in, fostering independence, autonomy and a passion for life-long learning?

I'd love to know your thoughts on this. Leave a comment below, email or tweet me (@AliceG_OU). 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

My love affair with the Ruby dress

The Ruby dress was one of the first dresses I made. It was a free pattern from Issue 4 of Love Sewing magazine a couple of years ago when I first got into dressmaking. It's a simple 1950s style full-circle dress, with a darted bodice and a v-back. I took inspiration from some of the readers' makes in the magazine and made a couple of versions from duvet covers. As well as the freedom to hack up the fabric without worrying too much about making mistakes, the big benefit of using duvet covers is the width. I was able to create a longer length full-circle skirt that way. The biggest downside has been the quality of the finished make (and feeling like I'm wearing a duvet cover in public!). However, I did learn loads along the way.

Recently, I decided to return to the pattern for an upcoming trip to the races at Ascot and a couple of early summer weddings. I'd realised that non-directional pattern was key for the skirt (after the upside-down birds on my first attempt), so opted to make it from some lovely extra-wide crisp cotton in navy with white spots from Berkshire Fabrics.

After my first couple of duvet makes I realised that I needed to adjust the pattern a little. To do this properly I made a toile of where I thought the adjustments were needed and made a few tweaks. I cut a size 14, but added an extra 1cm at the seams. When the bodice was made up I took the side seams in by 1cm under the arms, tapering down to the skirt/bodice seam. That may have been a long way round to do things, but it worked, and fitted my non-standard boob-shoulder ratio perfectly!

Even the extra-wide fabric didn't make the dress quite as long as I'd have liked, so I found a navy petticoat to finish the look (not handmade this time, I'm afraid). I went for a tuille underskirt from Amazon, with lovely finished edges, as I knew it would be showing from underneath the skirt. I was surprised by the quality for  the price and it really gave the dress a lovely fullness.

All the zip practice recently has paid off and the zip went in perfectly first time. Get in.

So the finished dress got its first outing to Ascot, accessorised with some nude peep toe shoes, a vintage navy bag and a navy shrug. It felt fantastic to wear and I even got a few compliments from random strangers (I was a bit shy at telling them it was a homemade creation).

Since posting pictures of it I've been asked how to avoid the darts looking too 'nippley'. Aside from not making it from too thick fabric, by advice has been to sew the darts from the outside of the fabric inwards (towards the point) and don't finish with a backstich (tie the loose ends together). That avoids some of the bulk. Also, press the darts using a tailor's ham if you have one. I decided to line the bodice of the dress rather use the facings, so that may also have helped. There are some easy-to-follow instructions in the last project of Love at First Stitch for that.

Now it's time to hang up the pattern (for a while at least, we need a break). Not before I enjoy wearing it a few more times though. I'm on the lookout for a new go-to dress pattern. Something with the fit and flare shape that suits me, but not quite as full a skirt. Ideally a pattern that will work in a lightweight fabric for summer holidays. Anyone tried the Sew Over It Betty dress?

Thursday, 21 April 2016

How to sew an easy girls' skirt


So, Spring is here (well, almost) and our small people just keep growing. Here's an easy peasy pattern for an elasticated waist skirt you can make in an hour or two. I used two metres of lightweight denim at £4.99 a metre and should get at least three skirts out of it.

You will need

  • Light to medium weight cotton (0.5-1m depending on size of child).
  • 1m waistband elastic (25mm width).
  • Matching thread.
  • Safety pins.
  • Sewing machine, pins, scissors and all the usual gubbins.

1. Take waist and length measurements

If you have the intended child handy take their waist and waist-knee measurements. If you don't have the child handy, here is a rough size guide.

12-18 m

You now need to use these two numbers to calculate the size of the rectangles you will cut. Here's how.
  • Waist measurement divided by two, multiplied by three, plus 3cm. E.g.
(57cm/2) x3
+ 3cm
= 88.5cm [WIDTH]
  • Length measurement, plus 8cm. E.g.
= 40cm [LENGTH]

2. Cut a paper rectangle

Use the WIDTH and LENGTH measurements you just calculated to draw a rectangle on tissue paper. Make sure your corners are right angles.

3. Cut fabric

Pin your tissue paper rectangle to your fabric and cut two identical rectangles.

4. Sew side seams

You now need to sew the side seams. How you do this will depend on the weight of your fabric and your preferred method. I had lightweight fabric, so opted for French seams to keep them neat and to avoid seams rubbing on bare legs.

For French seams, place fabric pieces together (wrong sides together). Sew a straight stitch 0.5cm in along the short edge of the fabric (use the edge of your sewing machine foot as a guide). Press this seam open with an iron. Then turn the fabric the other way out (right sides together) and press again. Now sew another straight stitch on the wrong side of the fabric, 1cm in from the edge. This seals the fabric edge inside the seam and makes for a very neat finish.

French seams are only really suitable for lightweight fabric, as otherwise the seams will be too bulky. The alternative is a standard 1.5cm seam (fabric right sides together). Press, trim and finish edge with a zig zag stitch to prevent fraying.

Sew both side seams. You should now have a large loop of fabric.

5. Sew waistband channel

The next step is to create a channel for the waistband. To do this, turn the top edge over by 2cm, press and then turn over by 3cm and press again. Pin this down, leaving a gap of about 8cm close to one the side seams. This is to thread the elastic through. Put a brightly coloured pin either side of the gap to remind you to leave this open. 

Sew the channel closed, as close to the edge as you can.

6. Sew hem

Now turn the bottom edge of the skirt under by 1cm and under again by another 1cm. Press and sew the hem. It's easier to do this this before you put the elastic in the waistband.

7. Thread elastic through waistband

Cut a piece of elastic the size of your waist measurement and attach a safety pin at either end (one large and one small if possible). Thread the end with the small safety pin through first (the large safety pin keeps it from disappearing into the channel by accident. Feed it all the way through until it comes out the other side.

8. Sew elastic together

Overlap the two ends of the elastic by 5cm and sew together in two or three places to make sure it's really strong. This will make the elastic 10cm shorter than the original waist measurements. If possible, put a safety pin in the elastic and try it on the child before sewing up to be sure of a good fit.

9. Close up channel

You can now close up the waistband channel in the same way as the rest of it.

10. Even out gathers and twirl!

Trim the loose threads, even out the gathers and give it a final press. Taa dah!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Making a Mimi blouse

I've finally finished my first blouse; the Mimi blouse from Tilly Walnes' brilliant Love at First Stitch. If you don't have a copy (and are interested in dressmaking) I would thoroughly recommend it. The projects get progressively more difficult as you move through and the Mimi blouse is the penultimate project. I've focused a lot of my sewing energy on dresses recently, so a blouse required learning a few new skills. And working with viscose for the first time. Oh, and did I mention it was a present for my mum? No pressure then.

Here are a few things I learnt along the way.

1. Viscose moves (a lot)

As viscose is a natural fibre I thought it would have the rigidity of cotton, but be a bit more drapey. In fact, the fabric I was using was slippy and stretched as I worked (that may have been due to the quality of the fabric). I had to be very careful how I handled it, so it didn't stretch as I sewed. I think the hem may have done that slightly.

2. Collars are tricky

As the collar piece is curved, it moves in different ways depending where the grain of the fabric is at different points on the curve. Combined with the tricky viscose this could have led to a very wonky collar. My way of dealing with that was lots of pinning and some very slow, careful sewing. I pinned the centre first, then the ends, and then everything in between, as evenly as possible. I sewed very slowly and kept checking as I went. I don't think I'm speedy Sewing Bee material.

3. Covered buttons look stylish

Even my cheapish eBay kit did a great job of these super classy self-covered buttons. You get a little gismo for pressing them, which was really fun and satisfying. I ended up using two layers of fabric as it was quite thin and one layer wasn't enough to stop the metal showing through. I will definitely be making more of these.

4. Sleeve length can be adjusted

My mum wanted a longer length sleeve than the pattern, so I measured her and adjusted the sleeve to a half length. I kept the width and the pleat, which has made for a fairly roomy sleeve, but it works with the style of the blouse.

5. Fitting on others is a different skill

In some ways easier, but I had to make sure that I marked up the adjustments properly as I couldn't just keep trying it on myself. I did set my adjustable dressmakers dummy to my mum's measurements, which helped. Hope the finished thing fits!

6. I love French seams

That is all.

I'm pleased with this for my first attempt. Think I need to make another though, to iron out some of those imperfections. Short-sleeved cotton lawn I think. And for me next time.