Contemplating a change of career- Sewcial Warrior’s in Business.

I’ve posted a few cryptic tweets recently about thinking about becoming self-employed and I thought I’d share my plans with you guys, as some have shown some interest.

You may know that I am a qualified Social Worker with Adults and Older People.   My day-to-day job involves me going out and seeing clients, either in the community or in nursing and residential homes, to assess their needs and provide the right support to help them meet their basic needs e.g. hygiene, nutrition etc.   As you can imagine, this is a tough environment to work in at the moment with the massive funding cuts from central government.   I won’t go into the boring details but basically I got into Social Work to help people and I no longer feel able to do that as my hands are tied by massively limited resources.   This frustration with my ‘real’ job and my increasing obsession with sewing and developing skills has made me start to look at what I really want to do with my life.   Do I want to spend my days getting frustrated and angry with ‘the system’ and having families shouting at me as I’m offering them a load of rubbish? Not really.   Would I like to spend my time doing something I love, which relaxes me as soon as I get a needle and thread in my hand?   Yes please.

With this in mind I’ve been thinking about how I can make some money with my new found skills.   Here comes a bit of a strange story.   Tobi, my husband, was in the pub a little while ago.   Now, he’s the kind of person who will talk to anyone, and everyone who meets him seems to tell him their life stories.   He got chatting to a group of people and it turned out they were there for a meeting of local people who are interested in fetish and BDSM- see, I told you it was an odd story.   Being the proud husband he is, he started talking to them about my sewing skills and how I may be able to help them with some outfits for events etc., bearing in mind I am incredibly open-minded and non-judgmental and wouldn’t ask awkward questions.   They seemed genuinely interested and Tobi passed my details along to them.   They also gave him the name of a community interest website for this area and I posted on a few groups on the website the next day to see if anyone would be interested in a ‘kink friendly seamstress’.   I was blown away by the immediate response.   I had people asking me to make wedding dresses for their husband to be, cross-dressers after custom garments and a small shop asking me to do some alterations ready for a photo shoot they were planning.

So, the first job I took on was the alterations for the photo shoot.   I had a leather bolero that needed the shoulders taking in by an inch, sleeves shortening by an inch and some embellishments adding.   There was also a military style jacket that needed the shoulders taking in.   I happily said that this would be no problem whatsoever and then as soon as they left my house promptly googled how to do the shoulder alterations (Henry, if you’re reading this I did know how to do it really! Ha ha).   I love the internet and the increasingly popularity of sewing means that you can find a tutorial for any technique you could ever possibly imagine and before I knew it I was unpicking the shoulder seams and perfectly tailored jackets were hanging in pieces.   It only occurred to me halfway through the first shoulder alteration on the leather jacket that I was doing an alteration I’d never done before on someone’s brand new real leather jacket that probably cost quite a bit and if I buggered it up I’d probably have to pay for the jacket.   Nerves set in at that point and my heart was pounding throughout.   Thankfully it turned out perfectly and I had two very happy customers who may be coming back for some more alterations in future.

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So this is the very tentative start of developing a career sewing.   I’m already struggling as I need continue the ‘real’ job full-time as it pays the bills and when I get home I’m so shattered I don’t want to have to do other people’s sewing- I can barely motivate myself to do my own sewing.   But I’m sure this will improve.

We had a round of voluntary redundancies in the ‘real’ job about two and a half years ago and they’re talking about having to do another round.   If it’s open to my pay grade I may seriously consider taking it as the small redundancy package could help me set up a proper business.   One day I’d love to have a fabric store with room for classes and workshops and a tea room/social area.   These are pie in the sky dreams but for now I’ll continue doing the odd alteration and commissioned piece (not just for the kink community btw, I’m happy to do any alterations etc.).

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Sewing on a Budget

I am queen of the awkward silence! It’s been too long since I’ve posted but I’ve been sewing away and there are some posts lined up for the coming weeks.   Meanwhile, here’s my thoughts on Sewing on a Budget…

Many people get into sewing with the thought that it will help them save money on their clothing budget but quickly realise that the cost of fabric, notions, and tools can add up and all of a sudden you’re looking at a dress that cost you half of the national deficit to make.   There are so many beautiful fabrics out there that it’s easy to get sucked in and order all the pretty things and start cultivating your purse as a home to the local spiders, rather than where your money resides.   However, there are ways of successfully sewing on a budget and with a bit of leg work and savvy spending you can have a wardrobe full of beautiful handmade clothing and not have to organise a bank heist to fund it.   Here’s a few of my tips.

Sewing Patterns

The online sewing community has exploded over the last few years and there are so many free patterns and tutorials online that sometimes it feels as though you will never have to buy a pattern ever again.   In fact, it’s only in the last three months or so of my sewing career that I have succumbed to buying any patterns brand new.   Here’s a few of my favourite free tutorials from the interwebs.

Colette Sorbetto top

By Hand London Polly vest

Swoon patterns scarf neck cardigan

I’ve also managed to pick up pattern bargains in the local charity/thrift shops.   Here’s a few examples.

Equipment

If you are new to sewing and considering purchasing your first machine see if you can borrow a machine or try out a class before committing to purchasing your own. You may find that sewing just isn’t for you and it’s much cheaper to realise this before your fork out your hard earned pennies on the shiniest all singing all dancing machine.   If you do decide to take the leap and buy your own, start with a basic model.   All you really need to begin with is a straight stitch with adjustable length, a zig-zag stitch and a button hole option.   The machine I use is this basic model from Hobby craft which was an affordable price and had all the functions I needed at the time.   18 months on and beginning to tackle intermediate patterns, this machine still does everything I need it to do.

There are also often inexpensive alternatives to the multitude of gadgets you suddenly feel you must own to be a ‘real’ seamstress.   For example:

  • Use a kebab skewer or knitting needle instead of a point turner (I always have a bamboo skewer around somewhere)

-          Use a safety pin to turn tubes rather than a bodkin

Fabric sourcing

Many sewist’s happy place is their local fabric shop and they like nothing better than spending hours on end browsing the racks of beautiful bolts of cloth.   I can find this a bit overwhelming at times and I cannot see the wood for the trees.   Plus fabric in some of the higher end shops can cost an arm and a leg.   Now, I’m just learning fitting skills and I don’t think I can work out how to make something fit without all my required limbs.   Therefore, I recommend a bit more leg work in your fabric shopping and here’s my tips:

Charity/ Thrift shops- It seems to be that a lot of our local highstreets are being taken over by charity shops as more an more of our conventional retail moves online.   These stores can be a treasure trove and they often have lengths of fabric that are frequently underpriced.   There are also often vintage patterns in really good condition.   Here are some of the finds I have had.

I find that you have to think a bit more creatively with fabric bought this way as you often don’t have labels telling you fabric content and the colours/patterns may not be exactly what you are looking for.   For this reason, I normally grab any bargains I can find and consider sewing pattern second.   This can mean a risk that your fabric stash would grow exponentially without set plans for it, but this is just the way I like to work anyway (although Tobi may have other ideas and, as previously mentioned, has exiled my stash to the garage).   I would suggest trawling your local stores on a regular basis to keep an eye on new stock coming in.   If you find something that you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it’s still worth considering buying it for use in toiles/muslins.

Freecycle- I’ve posted before about the finds I’ve had through freecycle.   I have found in my local area that fabric doesn’t come up regularly on freecycle, but it’s always worth asking if anyone’s got stuff hanging around that they don’t want anymore and that can be put to good use.

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Car boot/ garage sales- people seem to be becoming more savvy about the increasing popularity of sewing and other craft activities and I have found sellings increasingly bagging up sets of buttons etc. and asking for more for their items than previously.   However, you can still get complete bargains.   Here is my most recent find from my local car boot sale- Pattern Magic and Pattern magic 2 for £1 for both books!   These were brand new and unused too.

Unconventional sources/ refashioning-  most supermarkets now have extensive ranges of sheets and bedding and these can easily be used as yardage. I have made three dresses using sheets purchased in charity shops- the Dr. Who Emery Dress, The Chemery dress and an unblogged 50’s style prom dress.   Sheets are also great for toiles.   Again, look in charity shops, not just for yardage but also for any of the RTW clothes that catch your eye.   With a bit of imagination these can be changed into beautiful new outfits.   There are several blogs that are brilliant for refashioning ideas.   Check out Refasionista , New Dress a Day  and Charity Shop Chic.

Other- Gumtree, Facebook and Yahoo groups can also be a good source for fabric.   If you have a network of local sewing friends see if you can arrange a fabric and pattern swap party for your unwanted items.   Several online stores also provide money off vouchers if you subscribe to their mailing lists.   Shop the sales, remnant bins and remnant bundles online- you can sometimes grab a bargain.

Other hints and tips

  • Keep your scraps.   They’re great for contrasting pocket pieces, bodice lining or for piecing a whole dress together.
  • Play with your cutting layout to make the most of the fabric you’ve got. Fabric estimates on sewing patterns are often an overestimate.
  • Buy the highest quality fabric/notions you can afford and these wash better and will last longer so you get more wear for your money.
  • Set a budget- I try to not spend more than £20 a month on everything related to sewing.   This helps to stop the spending getting out of control and helps you to be more aware of where those costs are adding up.
  • Shop your stash before you buy anything new- there could be the perfect length of fabric just waiting and the bottom of your stash for you.

-          Be aware of your style and what suits you and stick to it.   Coletterie have had a recent wardrobe architect series to get you thinking about your style.   If you stick to what you know makes you look and feel good you will get more wear out of it and your garments are less likely to be worn once and then remain languishing at the bottom of your wardrobe.

 

I think that’s about it for my sewing on a budget tips. Do any of you have any hints and tips you’d like to share?

Burda Style Welt Pocket Tutorial

I’m currently working on the Culottes pattern from May 2014 issue of BurdaStyle Magazine which has lovely welt pockets at the back and a fly zipper- both new techniques to me.   As is the norm for Burda patterns, the instructions are vague and confusing.   This is not my first time tackling an intermediate pattern but is my first time sewing welt pockets and I took at least 40 minutes trying to decipher the instructions from the magazine.   What didn’t help is that the method used for these culottes is unlike any of the techniques I’ve seen used in the many welt pocket tutorials online.   To make it make sense to me, I had to re-write the instructions, adding the necessary details and clarifications as I went along.   I thought I’d share this with you.   The instructions below are specifically for this Culottes pattern but can be applied to any pattern that calls for a welt pocket.

  1. Cut welt pieces on bias and cut front and back pocket pieces as directed.   Cut fusible interfacing for welt pieces and strips approximately 4cm (1 5/8”).

  1. Interface welt strips and apply interfacing to wrong side of pattern piece, over pocket markings.

  1. Fold welt pieces in half horizontally, right sides out, and press.

  1. Finish seam allowances in your chosen method- zig-zag, overlocking (serging) or pinking shears.
  2. Transfer pocket markings to the right side of the fabric and mark placement line for welt 1.5cm (5/8”) below marking. This will be the finished width of the welt.

  1. Pin welt piece on right side of fabric with folded edge aligned with placement marking , raw edges to the top of the piece and pocket markings central.
  2. Stitch welt in place along lower pocket attachment line.

  1. On each larger pocket piece, mark and attachment line 7.5cm (3”) from the upper edge.

  1. Pin larger pocket pieces to culotte pieces, right sides together so that the attachment line you have just marked lines up with upper pocket attachment line and lower edge of the pocket piece is to the top of the culotte piece.
  2. Stitch along upper pocket attachment line, taking care not to stitch through welt piece.

  1. Cut Culotte backs between welt and pocket piece attachment seams and clip diagonally into the corners of the pocket markings, leaving long triangles.   Do not cut welt or pocket piece.

  1. Flip welts up and tuck ends into pocket opening, gently pulling triangles to the inside, and pull pocket piece to the inside.   Press

  1. Stitch smaller pocket pieces to seam allowance of welt.

  1. Stitch small triangles to welt, from the end of one pocket attachment line to the other.

  1. Stitch pocket pieces together, using ¼” seam allowance.

You should now have created a beautiful welt pocket.   I’m not sure that this is the easiest, neatest method of making a welt pocket, it was just how the Burda instructions had you do it.   I am hoping to try the various other methods I’ve found and reviewing which method I like best, so keep your eyes peeled.

p.s. Please excuse the ‘deliberate’ error.   I couldn’t get the numbering right on the last few steps no matter how much I fiddled with wordpress.   I got the numbers right but then it wouldn’t display my pictures.

Slinky floral dress

The last two weeks have been pretty exhausting as we moved house on the first week of our holiday, with two children on the first week of the summer holidays and no money to hire a van.   Luckily I have a mum-mobile, a seven seater with a massive boot when all the seats are down.   Most of our stuff was moved in countless car loads with just the main bits of furniture being moved in my sister-in-law’s boyfriend’s van.

We’re all in and unpacked now and the best bit is I get my own sewing space.   Well, it’s also a dining room, kids messy play area and generally ‘other’ room but I do have my machine set up in the corner and all my sewing supplies easily at hand… except my fabric stash which Tobi has relegated to the garage!!!!!   I have sleepless nights thinking about spiders and other creepy crawlies ruining the prescious hoard.

New Sewing Space

So, the first week of my holiday did not involve much sewing and then the start of the second week was taken up with unselfish sewing- you know the thing I said rarely happens round here.   I had two skirt alterations for work colleagues, a slip cover for an outdoor sofa and finally finishing a Getie Shirtwaist dress for my sister-in-law before I was able to do anything for my family and then I had to make new cushion covers to replace very tatty looking covers I’d made from old t-shirts about a year ago.   I used the Fat Quarter pack I won in a competition on Twitter from Sew Magazine.   I’ve been keeping these FQ’s since I won them, hoping I could come up with some ingenious way to turn them into something wearable as they’re so lovely.   But alas, I came up a blank and, seeing the first of the Fat Quarter challenges completed at Oonaballoona’s blog, I can see it’s no mean feat using FQ’s in garment making.   But we’re all pretty pleased with the results and at £6 for four new cushions (just the cost of new cushion pads at £1.50 each) you can’t really go wrong.

I did finally get to my favourite activity though, Selfish Sewing.   I posted recently about the Spring Sewing Swap goodies I received from Sew Actually, organised through Kestrel Makes blog and I decided to tackle the gorgeous floral satin that I melted over when it arrived.   Andrea sent this to me as a challenge as I had applied for Season Three of the Great British Sewing Bee and in season two the first few episodes focused on different types of fabric, silk being one of those.   Although I believe this fabric is polyester rather than silk, I can tell you it was definitely a challenge.

I wanted to let the fabric speak for itself and also not give myself too many headaches so I chose a fairly simple pattern that I had been gifted by a colleague at work.   It was the free ‘easy dress pattern, from May 2014 edition of Prima magazine.   I wasn’t sure about the style on me and thought it might look a little frumpy, so I decided to make up a wearable toile to test the fit and see if it looked any good on me.   I used a poly crinky crepe which I scored in a charity shop a while ago- I got about 5 metres of it and have already made a maxi skirt and had a good half metre left once I’d cut out the tunic length.   I wish I could remember which size I cut but I know that I had to grade to the size above from the waist down, which is usual for me due to my pear shaped frame.   I think it was a medium top half and large from the waist down.

The toile was very quick to sew up.   I substituted the elastic channel the pattern calls for for shirring.   I thought it would look a bit odd with a rectangle topstitched just under my boobs and lower back and shirring worked well as a more attractive alternative.   The pattern also directs you to use bias binding as a facing but I really liked the colour combination between the purple binding I had in my stash and the fabric so I bound the edges instead, including the hem.   This version must have only taken me about an hour and a half to make and I was proud of myself that I didn’t need to look at the instructions at all- Sewing level up :-)

The construction of the final dress was not so straightforward.   This fabric is very very slippery and was impossible to keep on grain when cutting out but I did the best I could and neatened up my edges after cutting the main pieces.   Andrea had warned me that sharp pins would be required and had sent me a new box of pins to help.   Sadly I still had a few snags in the fabric and, due to the printed nature of this satin, it left little white pull lines- you may be able to spot one on the hem picture below.   It’s hardly noticeable though and I’ve realised since I’ve been sewing that I always notice the imperfections so much more easily than anyone else.

For once I actually considered construction before I launched myself at my sewing machine and chose to use french seams throughout, except the armholes which I was too nervous about and so used a plain seam, trimmed the seam allowance down by half and used a narrow zig-zag stitch for the edges.   In hindsight I’m glad that I made this decision because I made a complete boob inserting the sleeves because the fabric is so slippery.   I ended up with sleeves that were far too tight and looked like I was going to hulk out of them at any moment.   I also thought the length of the sleeve looked a bit strange and frumpish with such lovely delicate fabric.   Therefore my solution was to go at the sleeves with a pair of scissors and turn them into cap sleeves.   As unpicking this fabric can also cause trauma to the weave I chose to make the alteration without removing the sleeves.   I measured down three inches from the shoulder point and drew a line with a hope and a prayer that I could get them matching on both sides.   I then trimmed the lower sleeve away at the underarm seam line and across the newly marked sleeve line, also trimming off the majority of the seam allowance in the under-arm portion of the armhole.   I then used satin bias binding that I had in my stash from my grandmother (who I never knew to sew so I have no idea why she had so much sewing equipment and haberdashery) to face the new armhole and sleeve edge.   The sleeves are slightly uneven but I like the new look and think it suits the fabric better.

Hemming was another trauma.   Due to my inability to keep the fabric on grain whilst cutting, my original hem line was very very uneven.   I don’t have a dress form so I begged Tobi to help me with marking an even hem line.   He was annoyed after the first three pins as he quickly discovered my frustrations with fabric that just doesn’t want to sit still.   I then cut off the excess fabric as straight as I could ready for hemming.   I had intended to make a hand-rolled hem but my first stitch, picking up just one or two threads, pulled out the threads and made a horrible snag.   I quickly abdandoned that idea and decided to do it on the machine.   I rolled over the hem edge approximately 1/8″ to the wrong side and stitched close to the edge and then repeated the process, giving me a nice narrow hem.   Horribly horribly uneven, but a hem none-the-less.

Shirring

Neckline Bias Facing

Teeny tiny machine rolled hem

Despite all my griping about this fabric, it feels divine to wear (apart from the static which makes it cling to my legs but is easily resolved by wearing a slip underneath) and it got the Tobi seal of approval when he realised how touchable it is.   It felt like an accomplishment to complete it too, despite the frustrations along the way.

I have since pinned some tutorials on my Pinterest Sewing tutorials board giving hints and tips for sewing with slippery fabrics.   Have any of you got any hints and tips to add?   Any slippery fabric disasters or triumphs?

Bag Making- Chemo Survival Kit

Just a quick post to show you the first bag I’ve ever made.   We had bad news a few weeks back and a very close member of my family was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast cancer.   It came as a complete shock to the whole family as she is only in her late 30’s and, at the time of diagnosis, had a 6 week old baby (she still has the baby, she’s just a couple of weeks older now).   Whenever there’s any family crisis my brain locks into Social Worker mode and I was trying desperately to think of anything I could do to help.   Obviously, I’m not an oncologist so all I can really do it offer emotional support but I also thought I might be able to make her Chemotherapy sessions a bit more pleasant and decided to make a ‘survival kit’ to relieve the boredom.

It was my first foray into bag making and I used this tutorial to make the bag and raided my fabric stash and the lovely flip flop fabric I was given in the Kestrel Makes Spring Sewing Swap.   I don’t have a lot to say about the construction of the bag, it was really easy and quick.   From cutting out to finishing the bag and putting the contents in it took me about 2 hours.   I wanted to have the main body of the bag in denim, but I didn’t have enough so used it for the handles.   This was a big mistake as there was a lot of bulk where the handles attached the body of the bag and my machine struggled a bit, even with a jeans needle in.   I had some spare top-stitch thread leftover from my denim rug so I top-stitched the handles too.

Here’s what I put in the bag:

  • Two Trashy magazines
  • A Mills and Boon triple book
  • Bars of chocolate
  • Boiled sweets & mints as I’ve read that chemo can give you a horrible taste in your mouth
  • Bottled water
  • Cleansing wipes
  • Hand and nail cream

She’s had her first Chemo session and really liked the bag and found the contents useful, which I was please about.   A much more useful gift than a bunch of flowers and extra special as I made it myself.

Rare Unselfish Sewing: Walden Patterns by Colette Negroni shirt

Sorry, there was a delay in getting this posted as I forgot my Flickr details so couldn’t get to the pictures.   All sorted now and I’ve written them done, so shouldn’t forget again.

 

Well, after a year of being asked to make something for my husband, I have finally relented. I present to you my husband, Tobi, in his Negroni shirt by Walden from Colette patterns. Ta Da!

This has been my most complex make so far and I’m really pleased with the result. Tobi decided that he wanted a long-sleeved shirt as he likes to be able to roll the sleeves up. This meant I had to tackle techniques I’d not done before- sleeve plackets and cuffs. I was really nervous about the sleeve plackets but actually they stitched up like a dream. The Colette instructions are really clear. To get nice sharp edges on the folds and point I used a piece of thin card to press the fabric over. This worked a treat. The cuffs aren’t perfect as the sleeve seam line poked out at the edge of the cuff but it’s not too noticeable.
Another tricky area was easing in the collar into the neckline seam but I used a pin easing technique that I spotted on the Fehr Trade blog  and took my time with the stitching making sure the yoke on the underside was smooth as I went along. This resulted in my best collar so far with absolutely zero puckers or pleats.

I made a slight boo boo with attaching the sleeves as I was a bit confused by the instructions. The sleeves and side seams of the Negroni are stitched with a flat-felled seam for strength and neatness. The instructions for attaching the sleeve have you press the sleeve head seam under by ¼” and then instruct you to match the edges of the sleeve head to the armscye and stitch a ¾” seam allowance. I slightly misinterpreted the instructions and matched the raw edges instead of the raw edge of the armscye to the folded edge of the sleeve head. This meant that I ended up with approximately a 1/8” flat felled seam for attaching the sleeve. It was very fiddly but I did it and it didn’t look awful so I chose not to unpick. Peter Lappin of Male Pattern Boldness has an amazing Negroni sew-along series which made me realise my mistake.
Fit-wise, my husband has a classic masculine shape- he’s like an upside-down triangle. I cut the large size for the top of the shirt and graded to a medium at the waist. The sleeves are slightly long, although I checked the finished garment measurements before I made and the length of the sleeve seemed perfect from these) and a little too full so for the next one (which will probably be completed in another years time) I will take some of the length off and may use the medium sleeve pattern and armscye. Tobi loves the fit as he usually has to buy large shirts which swamp him at the waist and make him look a lot bigger than he actually is. Maybe I should have intentionally ballsed it up for him so he doesn’t ask me to make him stuff anymore and I can stick to my selfish sewing.

Attaching the inner back yoke- is it a shirt or a draught excluder?

Pattern matching accross back, yoke and collar
Have any of you made a men’s shirt?   I really enjoyed this make and had one of those “Did I really make that?” moments when it was finally finished.   Tobi’s had loads of compliments on it from colleagues and I know he wants me to make more.

Chemery Dress

Cherry Emery, cherry Emery, cherry Emery- Chemery!!!   This is my second Emery Dress from Christine Haynes and my second made from an upcycled duvet cover.   Whilst doing my usual scour of the local charity shops I spotted this big bold cherry print single duvet hanging from the “everything £1″ rail.   How could I resist at £1?

I made no adjustments to this Emery other than those already made for my Dr. Who dress.

However, the duvet was a bit old and subsequently a little too sheer to be decent going out in without some stitching intervention.   I decided to underline the skirt portion and, continuing the theme, I used some remnants of another duvet I used last year to make a different dress.   It had big pink roses on one side, which I made the first dress with, and a white rose printed side.

I love how the roses show through when the light’s just right.   Look at my lazy hemming, overlocked the edges and then turned under and stitched on the machine.  I didn’t really think a duvet was posh enough to justify the painstaking hand stitching I did on my Dr. who dress.

This was my first ever invisible zip insertion and it went in so easily it left me wondering what all the fuss was about (until my second attempt on my Anna dress which took three attempts).   I’m pretty chuffed with it and I didn’t have the head scratching moment I had with the instructions when I used a lapped zip.

After I wore my first duvet dress to work one of my colleagues said she may have her old My Little Pony and Care Bears duvet covers at home if I want them.   Hell yeah, what child of the 80’s wouldn’t want to wear a dress with magical ponies and bears on it!

I really like the Emery dress, although I still need to do a bit of tweaking to the fit, but this dress is perfectly wearable and I’ve overheard a few comments on it as I’ve walked by people in town.   I think I’ll be making more.

Have any of you had amazing charity/thrift shop finds?