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    Entries in sewing (16)


    Sewlicious by Kate Hexell book review

    Every now & then I go through the library online & order the new sewing/knitting/crochet books that they have in stock. One of those was Sewlicious by Kate Haxell

    I haven't come across the author before, and the front cover didn't get me very excited. It's pretty, but a little self consciously 'distressed' and vintagey. The cover project is a pretty collar, in muted neutrals with decorative shell buttons. Interesting ways to sew the buttons on when you have a close look, but it's all a little safe and not really very me. I was not expecting to be AT ALL excited by the projects in the book. I was unsurprised when I saw the introduction had a patchwork dog coat  picture. Poor dog. And the apron (I actually like and use aprons) was a rather mumsy length and very 70's print fabrics in browns with creams & orange. Fabulous giant rickrack trim, but not something to set my heart fluttering. But then I got to the projects - and all my preconceptions were blown away. I <3 this book! The second project in the book is a doll - but what a doll! The Tattooed lady doll is distinctly burlesque & foxy. Using patterned Toile do Jouy fabric to give a tattooed look is so simple & so clever. I don't even like dolls but still want to make this one!

    The very next project is a Geektastic quilt based on a fibonacci sequence. By this point I'm in heaven. I don't do patchwork or quilting - but the clever mix of simple squares & an appliqued spiral of circles makes my geeky heart happy. By the time I got to the next project, Dead Flowery, I was reaching for my sewing machine. I haven't seen free motion machine embroidery like this before - and it does it for me completely. A flowery fabric with a scribbly skull stitched onto it? Yes please! I drew the pattern onto my fabric by holding the template up against a window, and launched into stitching. It took a bit of trial and error to get the hang of using my sewing machine to scribble, but I really enjoyed it. Instead of making the skull into a picture, I made mine into a project bag where it is currently holding my Alafoss lopayesa sweater-in-progress.

    I've never really quite got excited about decorative stitching. I did enjoy making reverse applique flames for my boys' gym competition leotards a few years ago,  but that was because I knew they would stand out and work really well with the music - Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnson, they knew it from Guitar Hero 3! But something about the projects in this book clicked with me. I've used ideas from 2 other projects in this book to decorate a plain fabric for the bag making workshop I'm running in November, and I love how it looks. I think it's the mix of solid satin stitch & scribbly freemotion embroidery. Anyway, I'm looking at applied decorations in a totally different way :)

    The 2nd chapter is 'Under Canvas' and again there were projects to appeal. I loved the Do away with damp picnic mat which mixes floral fabrics, tartan, pieces of an old cabled sweater and granny squares. Oilcloth backing provides water resistance, and the mix of fabric & crochet is just brilliant. I've also make the hot water bottle cover. Somehow it never occured to me that the cover doesn't actually need to follow the shape of the actual hot water bottle. Doh! The mix of fleece & faux fur is super snuggly. I used some really good quality dense fake fur, which feels amazing but was a bit of a pig to sew.

    There are more chapters, and more projects but I won't go on. You probably won't be surprised to hear that I bought the book. I thought it would be good for students to look through when I teach my next sewing class, which is a 10 week course at Kingshill House in Dursley staring this September. This course is full, but there will be another one starting in the new year. I like the different aesthetic of this book to lots of other sewing book which are rather more flowery in their preferences. The instructions seem pretty clear - to be honest I didn't pay too much attention other than for the free motion stuff as I put in zips etc pretty often. But if you are looking for a sewing book that appeals to the less flowery - you could do much worse than this one! 


    Sewing Troubleshooting

    I had a message on facebook from a friend the other day. She was asking if I had experience with old hand cranked machines. Her daughter wanted to do more machine sewing but "we seem to have no luck with modern machines (they always knot up under the material)" 

    This is a problem that comes up all the time in my Sewing Machine 101 classes, so I know it's a really commom & VERY frustrating problem.

    Hand operated machines can come up with the same problems too - and I find them frustratingly slow, so before giving up or buying a vintage machine, here are my tips from hard earned experience!

    1) Are you using cheap thread? It's a false economy, use a quality brand like Gutermann or Coates. Cheap thread breaks & knots. Good thread is comparatively expensive, but it's worth the investment for the use of your time & lack of frown-line making.

    2) Use a new needle. Blunt needles also cause knotting. They get blunt far quicker than you probably think. If you have never changed yours, do it now!! Also use the appropriate needle for the job - I am currently sewing aprons, and sewing through multiple layers so I am using a jeans needle. Needles are not very expensive. Buy lots, have them to hand. 

    3) Have you hand wound the bobbin? It causes problems - all machines can wind bobbins, which is more even, and stops knotting. Take the time to look at your manual & work out how to thread them automatically. It's always easy, as you have to do it a lot.

    4) Clean the dust. Get a paintbrush & get all the fluff out from where the bobbin goes. If you can, take the needle plate off and clean underneath. Then oil the bits that move.
    5) Rethread your machine from scratch, threading the top bit with the sewing machine foot up, not down. It makes a difference in some machines, no idea why.

    6) Always start sewing in from the edge of the material. You can reverse back to the edge, then keep going forwards.

    These should sort out 90% of machine problems. My friend has said that she is guilty of using cheap thread & some of the other suggestions, so she is going to give them a try & let me know. If you have had problems with threads knotting. skipped stitches, thread breaking or needles breaking you should find these useful too. Good luck! xx


    PS - For the experienced sewists - did I miss anything? What are your top tips?



    The Great British Sewing Bee - Book review 

    After a day of making new aprons for Scrumptious Tearooms, I thought this would be a good time to review the GBSB book. I'm a fan of The Great British Sewing Bee, I loved the first series & am enjoying this one even more. I'm really enjoying watching the contestants, and am rooting for Lynda (who is Sarah of Crafts from the Cwtch's Mum). If I had more garment experience I might be tempted to apply - but I don't! For my birthday, my lovely boys got me the book that goes with the current GBSB series - Sew your own wardrobe, by Tessa Evelegh. Good choice, boys :)

    I wanted to wait until I had made something from the book before writing a review. Over the weekend I made a men's shirt. This was the project that the twins liked & not something I've made before, so I gave it a go. I'll post in more detail about the shirts & how I found the instructions later. But I'll do a general review first.

    Overview of the book;

    The book is well presented. The information section at the front of the book covers all the general techniques I would expect. The diagrams are clear & the explanations are mostly straightforward. There is a section on patterns and fit which is useful. Pattern adjustments are covered in a little more detail than I expected, including where to change length, adjusting bust dart positions & fairly clear full bust adjustment (FBA) information. It's good to see that as commercial patterns are designed for a B cup, and simply sizing up doesn't help the fit across the bust, especially if you are gifted with more than a D cup.

    There are 25 garments in the book with patterns included, rated from Easiest to Tricky. The patterns need to be traced from the 5 sheets included in the separate pack. 

    Tracing the patterns is a pretty standard thing for sewing books rather than patterns. However there are a lot of lines to contend with & I found I missed some of the markings.

    The range of patterns is good, with a mix of male & female, child & adult. Lots of the patterns have featured in the show.  

    Having said that I do have some criticisms. The size range is not generous. The largest women's bust size is 18. It's actually less generous than that sounds as pattern sizes tend to run smaller than garments in shops. The size 18 bust size in the book is 40", with a 42" hip. Now my bust size is larger than 40", but I can do an FBA. I think the limited range is probably at least partly due to the need to fit 25 patterns onto 5 sheets of paper, but it does really limit the appeal. The average size in the UK is a 16 - which means that lots of people will not be able to use these patterns. I also found that the mens sizing ran small. The size S is 34"-36", and I chose to make it for the twins (age 12). It fits Billy perfectly with what seems like the right amount of positive ease. But his chest is only 31". As Joe's chest is bigger, I am reducing the generous seam allowances to make his shirt wider rather than having to trace the pattern pieces for size M. . I realise that my boys have broad shouldered genes everywhere you look in our family.  (At their last gym competition, Paul overheard another team's coach saying covetously "Look at the shoulders on them!" while wishing for more boy bases for his club.) But the shirt sizing does seem to be aimed for a more slinky shouldered man!

    So there is a note of caution if you are designed with a larger build. But there is alot of good information in here. I have some small niggles with the pattern that I have made. They are pretty minor though as I have made a well fitting shirt from it, and it isn't a pattern aimed at beginners who might have been put off. The book is a great price at the moment at around £12 in John Lewis, the big supermarkets & Amazon. If you are considering buying a sewing book - this is a good choice. I would recommend it. There are also lots of pictures of Patrick on the inside back cover. Not that that should influence your decision, much. Aaah, Patrick!  ;)



    Today is December 10th. I'm not sure how this has happened. The boys have been telling me that we're already in December but I haven't fully accepted this. And now I've realised that they have completely given up on advent calenders this year. Facebook is full of photos of beautifully decorated trees. Our living room features clean sort-of-folded laundry & abandoned vacuum cleaners. This is causing feelings of parenting guilt.

    While food shopping yesterday I decided to buy them late advent calenders. Sadly there was a choice of 50p Disney princess or £10 Thorntons calenders. Neither completely ideal for three 12 & 14 year old boys.....

    So I improvised, and when they get back from school, they will see that the living room windows are sporting seasonal chains of printer paper packaged sweeties!

    I worked out that we needed 14 packs for each child to get us to christmas eve. I worked that out wrong. I have an maths A-level. Nobody would ever know! So now we have advent calenders that run to the 23rd......... but at least they are actual advent calenders, right? 

    They have the same sweets - god forbid anyone has anything better than anyone else - but in random order. Because the twins have to learn to deal with not getting the same thing at the same time. See, orthodentistry endangering & parenting lessons in one package!

    So A4 paper & a few packs on sweets on offer went from this 

    to this

    to this 

    I am hoping for many good mummy points from this. And if not, I have lots of treats to eat!!



    I've actually managed to do some sewing recently! I have missed it, more than I'd realised and getting the sewing machine out was fun. It's so much quicker than either knitting or crochet!

    First, I made a couple of things for me - a project bag & a case for my circulars.

    The project bag was more or less based on this free pattern. I didn't add any pockets though & I don't know if I followed the method because I didn't actually read the instructions. Love the fabric I bought though & it fits a whole sweater project in it :)



    The holder for my fairly large supply of circular needles was made up out of my own head though. I had made the changing mat from Lisa Lam's A bag for all reasons and the use of clear tablecloth vinyl had obviously stuck with me, along with the trifold idea as both of these came into play for this holder. 

    The external fabric came from Ikea, internal from Fabricland Bristol. The front flap is essentially an integrated pencil case, which holds all my smaller notions, scissors, tape measures, needle gauges etc. There is a pocket on the back for patterns & stuff & another pocket as you open the front flap. The other two thirds are joined with a magnetic clasp & hold all my interchangeable tips, cables, fixed needles etc.

     And the clear vinyl makes it easy to see my cables;


    and then I started on christmas presents. My niece (wisely) confided in me that she would really, really love a Red Riding Hood cloak. Now, I am realistic so I didn't rush out to make a full length wool or velvet cloak. But I did buy some nice quality cosy fleece & some cute lining fabric & downloaded a pattern so I could make the two older nieces a mid length cloak each instead.

    The pattern is the Maisie Cape from My Childhood Treasures and can be found here. Easy to make - it took me longer to assemble the printed pattern piece than to sew the actual cloaks - it fastens with velcro & is reversible. Cute, no? 

    Next up - a bag for Mum's birthday. The fabric is bought, it's an improvised pattern that I've made before, but it takes about 8 hours to make so I just need a good clear day or two then I can get going :)