Thursday, 11 January 2018

Bloomsbury Blouse

Usually, what's currently 'on trend' in clothes shops is of very little interest to me, and has next to no influence on what I want to sew. But occasionally a style/look/detail comes along that really chimes with me. And right now, I'm ALL about the ruffles. 


I discovered Nina Lee's Bloomsbury blouse pattern via Pinterest, and it was kind of love at first sight. I had a similar blouse when I was at university, with the pie-crust collar but sleeve-less I think. I rarely buy printed sewing patterns these days, but when I saw Nina's stall at last year's GBSB Live event, I took the opportunity to buy it directly from her. Let it be known, she and her sister (pictured below) are the sweetest ladies you could meet IRL! 

(image source: Nina Lee)

Back to the pattern. This blouse has some options to choose from: a dramatically wide or more modest yoke ruffle (I split the difference and went for something in between the two widths), and optional neck and sleeve ruffles. I decided to go for the neck ruffle in homage to my university blouse that I doubt I wore as often as I should have, but my limited fabric ruled out the sleeve ruffles as well. I'd like to try the sleeve ruffles on a potential next version, however I would be a little concerned that they may make it difficult to wear a cardigan over the top. Anyway, you could have a lot of fun mix-and-matching the design elements, plus I think Nina has made a sleeveless version which could be great for hotter weather. 

I started making this blouse during the time my overlocker was out of action, and I worked on it in small instalments alongside a bunch of other projects, so it's difficult for me to judge exactly how long this project took from start to finish. However, even if this was the only thing on your sewing table, it would be a relatively time-consuming make. Prepping, hemming, gathering, pinning and stitching all those ruffles takes time, so I'd recommend sewing this pattern when you're not in a rush for something new to wear. 

Usually I'd trace a sewing pattern first instead of cutting straight into a printed one. Yet this time I was feeling bold, so after measuring the pattern pieces against other, well-fitting blouse patterns I own, I felt confident to cut the size 10 around the shoulders and bust, blending to a size 12 for the waist and hips, plus folding out 2cm below the bust to account for my short-waistedness (my standard pattern alterations). I think the fit in general was spot on, however I made a couple of small changes after checking the fit mid-way. Firstly, I restitched the sleeve seam to allow a bit more width around the elbow and sleeve hem. Secondly, I reworked the side seams as I found the angle of the original waist shaping too extreme and the seam allowance couldn't lay properly. 


My friend Kerrie (hi Kerrie!) recently had a MAJOR destash; her job and post-grad course take up so much of her time that she has little opportunity to sew these days. I was a grateful recipient of a sizeable chunk of her stash, including this plum/off-white cotton gingham. Initially, I considered using it to make a shirt for Pat, but men's work shirts are so easily found in charity shops that I decided not to bother, and in fact managed to thrift him a gingham work shirt shortly after making myself this blouse.  


When I first put this blouse on, I questioned the wisdom of including the neck ruffle, and foresaw some unpicking and removal. In the end, I decided to keep it, but if I were to make it again, I'd possibly alter the proportions slightly by making the neck stand narrower. Plus, if I were to make this pattern again, I'd change the back yoke pieces so I could add buttons all the way up. As you can see from the back photo above, the open section of the centre back doesn't lay flat, which is a shame as I think it's a lovely design detail. But these are all little niggles, in general I'm super happy with this blouse. I wouldn't have chosen this colour fabric as it's not one of 'my colours' but I'm so glad that stash-busting forced me to try something different and add a new shade to my clothing selection.


Pattern: £14 (from here)
Fabric: £0 (a gift)
Buttons and interfacing: £0 (from stash)
Total: £14

Friday, 5 January 2018

Free Pattern Friday: Kid's Sunny Day Shorts

This is my monthly feature where I road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes a women's one. I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those of you who plan to get your sew-on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive pass time. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free. 

I'm often inspired to sew for the opposite season that I'm currently experiencing. Therefore I found myself sewing a stack of summer shorts in November. And having made seven pairs now, I feel I have tested this pattern pretty thoroughly!

Pattern type:

This basic shorts pattern by Oliver + S is a fantastic staple for summer, and for sleep wear. The pattern consists of three pieces: front, back and waistband, and is an excellent stash buster, plus a blank canvas for customisation. 

Sizing info:

The pattern PDFs have been grouped into two sizing sets: 6m to 4 years, and 5 to 12 years. However, please be warned that this pattern comes up pretty small. Dolores has just turned four, and here she is wearing size 5. Frankie has just turned one, and in the picture above he's wearing size 3 (he'll be around 18 months when it'll be hot enough for him to wear these outside). The African wax fabric pair were made for a friend's son's fourth birthday, but he's big for his age, so I made him size 7 just to be on the safe side. 

I'd recommend erring on the side of caution and making at least one size larger (unless the child you're making them for is little for their age). If you take an accurate waist measurement when cutting the elastic then they won't fall down, and you may be able to let out the elastic and get another season's wear from them. I always cut waist elastic 4cm shorter than the child's waist measurement, plus 2cm for an overlap which gives a bit of wriggle room if they need to be let out.

Fabric info: 

As mentioned above, this basic pattern can be a great stash buster. The main reason I made so many pairs to test this pattern was because I kept finding small lengths of light or medium cotton in my stash. Plus, this is one of the rare sewing patterns that seem to work well in quilting cotton. The waistband could be made from a contrasting scrap of fabric if you wanted to use up even smaller pieces. I have also seen people on instagram use this pattern in stable knit. 


Oliver + S always produce excellent sewing patterns, and the instructions are clear and easy to follow with great step-by-step diagrams. This is a good pattern for beginner sewers/sewists to get their teeth into, and others will enjoy a quick project with a slightly-less-common waistband/elastic casing method. 

As for the finished garments themselves, here's where I reveal some entrenched gender bias that I'm not particularly proud of, but I kind of feel that the silhouette works better for boys than girls as daytime shorts. I'm totally going to let Dolores choose when she wears hers without steering her either way, but I'm kind of expecting her to use them (the stripy, fairy print and sharks print ones, and more obviously the plum check ones) as summer pyjama bottoms. 

Customisation ideas:

Your options for making this pattern unique is pretty limitless. Here's some ideas:
  • Add patches or appliqué (I stitched on a section of woven ribbon on the stripy pair like a little label)
  • Add piping, lace, ricrac or braid in the waist seam or side seams
  • Cut the waistband from contrasting fabric
  • Add patch pockets to the front or back
  • Add in-seam pockets 
  • Split the pattern pieces to create colour-blocking
  • Lengthen the legs to make bermuda-length shorts (like the African wax fabric pair below) or into trousers/pyjama bottoms (like the plum checked pair Dolores is modelling)
  • Stitch the seams on the waistband and hem in a contrasting coloured thread
  • Make a bow from ribbon, braid or cotton tape and stitch to the centre front of the waistband for a faux-drawstring effect

Would I make it again?

Most definitely! It's great to have a pattern on hand to help turn random half-metres of cotton fabric into useful, wearable kid's clothes. 

Friday, 22 December 2017

Pattern Prep + Podcasts = Heaven! (An Update)

(image source: Julienne Alexander for Criminal Podcast)

I published a post nearly three years ago about listening to podcasts whilst sewing, and it is still one of my favourite a
ctivity combinations ever! A number of readers commented on that post saying that they enjoyed my recommendations, and left great recommendations themselves that I had fun checking out. These days, podcasts may be even more important to me, than three years ago: they can be wonderful entertainment, of course, but they also provide me with as a link to the wider world when I'm feeling that my life at the moment can be frustratingly repetitive at times. 

What has changed is that, nowadays, I tend to listen to podcasts during pattern prep (tracing or sticking PDFs together), cutting out fabric, or the quiet bits of sewing that require less attention (like hand-sewing or pinning). I find it annoying to be listening to something interesting then have chunks of it obscured by the whirr of my sewing machine. 

I still regularly listen many of the podcasts I listed previously, but during the three years that have passed I've heaps of new (to me) ones. Some of them I became obsessed with, rinsed the entire back catalogue, waited with baited breath for new episode, and moved on from, and some of which that have firmly stuck in my subscription feed. So here's what I'm listening to these days. Please leave your current podcast obsessions in the comment section!

Answer Me This

What is it? A comedy podcast where the hosts, Helen and Olly, answer all manner of questions submitted by listeners. Occasionally LOL inducing, always amusing, IMO. Fact: this is the first podcast I listened to where the presenters don't have an American accent (they're British, like me) and I genuinely had a hard time getting used to it.

Recommended Episode: Whatever is the latest? Doesn't really matter.

Circle Round

What is it? This podcast aimed at children shares folk stories from around the world, and my four-year-old daughter loves it. She still struggles with the concept of not being to 'see' it, but I love putting this on for her in the car, I feel like it's a little bridge between our worlds and interests.

Recommended Episode: Dolores would probably say episode #10 'Thunder and Lightning', whereas so far I liked episode #11 'Princess in the Mirror' best.


What is it? Fascinating and sometimes beautiful little true tales around the theme of illegal activity, usually only about 15-20 minutes long apiece. Warning: some of the episodes are a little on the dark side, so probs best not listen to this podcast when there are kids around or you're feeling a bit sensitive. I find that the presenter, Phoebe Judge, has such lovely way of speaking. 

Recommended Episode: episode #7 J.R.R Ziemba, and episode #70: A Bump in the NightI can't recommend this podcast enough, so if you listen to an episode and it doesn't quite float your boat, then please try another! 

What is it? Sometimes I think I like DSAM too much, although it's hard to describe what it's about as such. Often the episodes are interesting interviews where the host, Anna Sale, creates a gentle connection with the interviewee that draws out of them maximum truth. Other times the episodes revolve around a specific topic, like student debt, that features many contributors with fascinating insights and angles. Whatever's going on here, it's almost invariably very good. 

Recommended Episode: I think you're just going to have to take a stab at whichever peaks your interest. If you want to find out exactly what the amazing host herself is all about, then I heartily recommend listening to this episode where the tables are turned and she becomes the interviewee. Did I mention that I love this podcast?

What is it? Speaking of podcast-love that's hard to define, let's talk about Heavyweight. I'm assuming the title is being ironic, because this is an incredibly amusing and fairly light hearted (but regularly very touching) podcast where the host, Jonathan Goldstein, investigates other people's mysteries, whether they want him to or not. 

Recommended Episode: Milt, Jesse, Rose and Isabel were all awesome. 

What is it? Love + Radio is mental and captivating. The creators must have scoured the world to find the most interesting people alive to be the subjects of their shows, and then won their trust and honesty to make it the most absorbing chunk of time you could devote to listening to something. In short: It's. So. Good. 

Recommended Episode: Oh my! Literally each one is a work of art in itself, but the episodes I wish I could erase from my memory to be able to devour them again as if for the first time are: SuperchatThe Wisdom of Jay ThunderboltStrip, Pt 2 and The Silver Dollar

What is it? Radionlab is all the amazing stuff that you somehow haven't heard about before: topics relating to science, history, politics, ethics and much more, presented so wondrously. Radiolab has made me cry on a train before, I mean that as a compliment. Radiolab episodes are the ones that I'll most likely have to tell Pat (Mr So Zo) about at the earliest opportunity.  

Recommended EpisodeThe Trust Engineers was a fantastic one that I recommended in my previous podcast post, but there have been so many that have literally changed my life a bit. 

What is it? Each story Reply All features is connected, in someway, to the internet. I must admit that I accidentally became unsubscribed to Reply All somehow and it took me a couple of months to notice. So, therefore, I'd have to say that it's not my favourite favourite, however it is often funny and interesting and well worth trying out. 

Recommended Episode: Agh! I'm really struggling to pick one to recommend, however #76 Lost in a Cab is pretty typical of their output, therefore perhaps a good one to help figure out if this podcast is for you. 


What is it? If you got into the legend that was Serial: season one, then you've probably already devoured S-Town. If you haven't, then you really should give it a whirl. This series, unlike most podcasts, dropped all seven episodes at once so you (me) could binge them like a rabid dog. It's a fascinating tale of a real guy living in a real place and looks into real events, and I can't figure out how to make this podcast sound good without mentioning any spoilers.

Recommended Episode: As with Serial, you have to listen to all of the S-Town eposides in the correct order or you are a fool.

Savage Lovecast

What is it? If, like me, you'd enjoy a window into the personal lives of people you'll never meet, then this sex and relationships podcast is for you. I've also learnt A LOT about the issues and difficulties faced by the LGBTQ community from this podcast, which means that I'm probably a better person than I was before I started listening to it. Plus, it's enjoyable to listen to a podcast that makes no apologies for being transparently left-leaning, and sweary.

Recommended Episode: Any and all. 

The Adam Buxton Podcast

What is it? It could be loosely described as a (usually no very well known-)celeb interview podcast hosted by British comedian/actor/presenter/man, Adam Buxton. If you find him amusing, then each episode is an hour-long treat. If you don't, then I can't help you.

Recommended Episode: It really depends on which of the interviewees appeal to you, but I really enjoyed the chats with Zadie Smith (episode #40), Claudia O'Doherty (episode #36), Miranda Sawyer (episode #53), Simon Amstell ((episode #55) and all of the ones with Adam's bessies, Louis Theroux, Garth Jennings and Joe Cornish. Basically pretty much all of them. 

What is it? I'd say that this is the podcast that I'm most excited to see pop up in my 'new episodes' feed at the moment. Every episode is basically this: funny women talking about very important stuff. 

Recommended Episode: I'm still at the stage with this podcast where I'm hoovering up each new weekly episode when they drop, and going back through the archive and listening to older ones in between, so I haven't heard them all yet. However, I felt privileged to have heard Minefields (episode #64) and the Handmade's Tale one (episode #74) and Intrepid Women (episode #57), and found many others LOL-inducing.

The Longest Shortest Time

What is it? A podcast that covers all manner of parenting related topics and other people's parenting stories. I've only found a few of the episodes to contain anything that I can directly relate to, but it's so interesting to hear about all the other versions and experiences of family life out there. 

Recommended Episode: The recent four-part series on working mothers (#141, #142, #143 and #145) was 50,000 times more interesting it sounds like it's going to be. And I loved the Casey Wilson episode (#98), among many others. 

The Sporkful

What is it? If you enjoy eating food and finding out about other people, then The Sporkful will probably float your boat. Presenter/producer Dan Pashman has the best laugh in podcasting. 

Recommended Episode: The two Aleppo Sandwich episodes were incredibly moving, and the mini-series about food and race was really interesting and thought provoking too. 

What is it? The Big Daddy of podcasts! TAL has been going since the 1990's and has a massive following. Most of the hour-long episodes revolve around a theme and feature several stories that are loosely connected to the theme, but some episodes are based on a single factual tale. I got into TAL when my boss at Traid went on maternity leave and I worked alone for several months. I got thoroughly obsessed and used to rack up maybe five episodes a day.  

Recommended Episode: My goodness, so many but I'd say two episodes that really drew me in to this podcast are Switched at Birth and Act V. The wonderful thing about TAL is that, if you get into it, there is a backlog of over 500 episodes to dive in to!

Other podcasts I often dib into or used to be obsessed with: Strangers, Serial, Invisibilia, Mystery Show, Revisionist History, Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, The Doug Stanhope Podcast, Girl on Guy, The Butterfly Effect and WTF. Enjoy, my friends! 

Friday, 15 December 2017

Jeggings Attempts #3 and #4

It's been a journey, guys. This post represents the large amount of time and mental energy that has been taken up by this quest for successful jeggings. Remember when I was talking about ways we can pursue making great, long-lasting garments, thus making sewing a more sustainable activity? Well this whole journey has definitely ticked a whole load of those boxes, although I certainly couldn't muster up the energy to attempt to perfect every project/pattern to this degree!

But let's back up. If you're interested in the details of where I'd got to with The Saga of the Jeggings, then please head to this post to read about my first and second attempts. The black pair (#2), despite their issues, have been worn HEAPS. Like, almost daily. The quality of the denim I used is amazing. The colour has faded quite a lot, as you'd expect with repeated wear and laundering, but they keep their shape so well, and by the end of the day they haven't sagged at all. But, if you already read that post then you know I was pretty stumped about where to go next with improving the fit.

A while ago I'd bought, but not fully watched, the Craftsy class called The Perfect Jeans with Jennifer Stern-Hasemann (my new favourite person). I returned to that class after a tipoff from TATB employee and general amazing lady Vanessa (who had read my Jeggings Attempts #3 and #4 post so knew of my troubles) that it may hold the key to my fit issues. I watched the relevant sections of the Craftsy class but still felt unsure of how to proceed. I then spent a number of evenings reading pretty much all the fit issue questions posted by viewers in the class notes and Jennifer's responses to them, partly because I was finding it fascinating, but mainly in the hope that someone would be having the same issues as me. Then it finally dawned on me: I could just bloody ask Jennifer myself! I was a little concerned that she'd tell me that her class was about fitting 'proper' jeans, not jeggings, but as a paying customer I was hoping that she'd throw me a bone and offer some advice anyway. She did.

Jennifer suggested I scoop out the crotch a bit (see the red line in the picture above that she helpfully drew on). The aim of this was to create more space for my bum so they didn't ride down so much at the back when I sat down, whilst also to picking up some of the excess length I had on my black (#2) pair. I also lowered the waistline by 2cm for comfort, shortened the leg length, tapered the leg at the ankle a bit and repositioned the pockets. The navy pair you see below are the result of making these changes.


Better, no? I used some cheap stretch twill from Fabric Land in Brighton that has four-way stretch. I'm not sure I've knowingly encountered a woven with four-way stretch before, but it's made for very comfortable jeggings. They are basically the only pair of trousers/jeans/jeggings that I don't change out of as soon as I get home (I'm wearing them now, in fact). As for construction, I didn't bother with any real or faux felled leg seams this time, just closed ones on all seams. I also selected a very narrow lightning stretch stitch on my machine as a few stitches have popped around the waist seam on my black (#2) pair. I spent quite a bit of time creating some gently shaping around the calf so that they fit really nicely round there which I'm super pleased with. 

However, there's the following:
  • some excess fabric around the back thigh
  • they ride down at the back a fair bit when I sit down 
  • the pockets are still too low and too close to the side seam  
  • and now I've got some kind of knock-knee issue going on
Back to Jennifer...

She suggested I corrected the knock-knee by slashing both the front and back pattern pieces at the knee and shifting the bottom half towards the inseam about 1/2", then reshaping the leg seams (the adjustment in red labelled 1 in the picture above). (We decided against making the adjustment labelled 2 in the end.) I also extended the back crotch point, but only about 1/4", to help a bit more with the riding down at the back when I sit. Oh, and added some length back to the hem. The results (#4):


Pretty good, I hope you'll agree. Well, that's what I thought when I first put them on. Then I wore them for a morning and they kept riding down at the back every time I bent down (which with a tiny toddling little guy around is OFTEN) and it was driving me crazy. I was so desperate to take them off as soon as I got home, that I must confess, I changed out of them before I even unclipped Frankie from his pushchair! 'AGH', I thought, 'They're a bust'!. I put it down to this cheap stretch twill (once again from Fabric Land, I'm not proud) that has only two-way stretch. 'Maybe I can only make this pattern in four-way stretch', I thought and prepared myself to chuck them in my textile recycling bag. Then I checked and found that the black denim that my #2 pair is made from only has two-way stretch (albeit much better quality), so I had a re-think. I went and bought some wider, sturdier and better quality elastic, then unpicked and remade the waistband with the new elastic inserted. It made the world of difference and these now stay in place as I move about, bend down etc. Phew! I think the lesson I need to take away from this pair, that I already mentioned in my sustainability post but clearly hadn't taken fully on board, it that quality fabric and notions can make a massive difference. 

Next step:

I don't think there's anything further I can do to this pattern. I've accepted the slight excess of fabric around the back thigh as necessary for being able to walk and sit down properly. This pattern is as close to perfection as I think I can get. Jennifer agrees. This week I went back to my black (#2) pair and re-hemmed them to make them a bit shorter, then unpicked and restitched the waistband having lowered the waistline by 2cm. Now I have three wearable pairs of jeggings: black (faded to grey), navy and red. I'm particularly thrilled to have red ones, despite it probably being the worst quality fabric of the three, but I've had my eye on owning some red trousers or jeans for years. That's probably a sufficient quantity of pairs of jeggings to own. It's great to know that I've got the pattern ready as and when any of these become unwearable. However, I've got a gorgeous piece of turquoise/blue stretch denim in my stash (this I think), and I fancy pushing myself a bit further. I'm talking 'proper' jeans. Like, with a yoke, belt loops, fly front, the whole nine yards. Jennifer thinks I can adapt this pattern a bit to become a proper jeans pattern, so watch this space for that.  

Friday, 8 December 2017

More Mittens

November just gone was a really tricky time for me. My overlocker broke. It was being temperamental, as it can sometimes be, which I forgive due to being over 30 years old and only costing me about £60 a decade ago. But this time it just wouldn't respond to my usual solutions to its difficult behaviours. And then it got jammed, and when I forced it by turning the hand wheel a tiny bit of metal pinged off, and then it REALLY didn't work anymore. I was able to take it to the legend that is Richard Mouland (Brighton-based sewing machine repair and servicing dude), and I waited with baited breath for the verdict. Long story short, he was able to re-weld the teensy bit of metal back on and now it works better than ever. PHEW. 

But those were a tense few weeks, and I was left twiddling my thumbs a bit, sewing-wise. Of course, I know that no one needs an overlocker to sew great clothes, but as most overlocker owners would probably agree, once you're used to having one to sew the seams on knit projects and finish the raw edges on woven ones, it's hard to go without. I did a lot of cutting out, and sewing as much as I could on a few projects before having to set them aside until an overlocker came back into orbit. And I FINALLY got round to making these mittens. 

This must be the 200th pair of mittens I've made (I'm exaggerating, but only a bit), but the first in about four years. I started making them in my former job sewing for the textile recycling charity TRAID, and making the first pair of my own from a felted leopard print cardigan with cashmere lining. Two years later, that pair got recut and reworked, receiving a new lease of life with the introduction of a red wool jumper. Around that time I got back into making these on a larger scale, and made a TON which I sold at craft fairs one Christmas under the name 'Smittens'. 

My plan was to continue reusing whatever section of my own mittens was salvageable each time holes appeared, creating a perpetually renewing pair of mittens, kind of like a wooly Doctor Who. However, I'd let four-winter's-worth of wear pass by without remaking them and they has got so hole-y that they weren't really worth recutting. So I treated myself to making a new pair from scratch. My stash of felted and moth-eaten knitwear is dwindling and this is the best combo I could cobble together: lime-y yellow for the outsides and lower insides, geo-grey for the palms, grey/teal for the cuffs and some grey for the lining. Sadly, the lining isn't cashmere so they don't feel quite as soft as my former pairs, but they are snuggly enough. 

Because of the two layers of wool, these really are the warmest of mittens, and I'd whole-heartedly recommend anyone who lives somewhere that gets chilly to harvest some felted or ropey old knitwear and have a go. This is the pattern that I used, it includes seven sizes including men's and children's, and they are really speedy and satisfying to make. So if you're stumped on what to buy someone (or you've run out of funds) this Christmas, this might be the answer. You're welcome. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

Free Pattern Friday: Women's Durango Tank

This is my monthly feature where I road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes a women's one. I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those of you who plan to get your sew-on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive pass time. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free. 

Last summer taught me that my hot-weather game is weak. And with winter approaching fast, I realise that my cold-weather game is much the same. (I've nailed spring and autumn though.) So in the interests of making comfy clothing that will see masses of wear (as per the discussions in my recent post about trying to make sewing more sustainable), I'm in the market for a decent knit tank (vest) pattern. Something easy and comfy to wear in the summer, that can be scrunched up in a suitcase when travelling to warm places, but that can also be worn as a foundation layer in winter, and maybe even used to sleep in. Thanks heaps to Gillian from Crafting a Rainbow for bringing this pattern to my attention at just the right time, and to Hey June for releasing this free Durango tank pattern

(image source: Hey June Patterns)

Pattern type:

According to the Hey June site, the Durango Tank is a casual sleeveless shirt with a centre back seam (to make sway-back alterations easier) and a longer flared hem. The higher neckline and high-cut shoulders give it a vintage summer concert tee vibe. The Durango is fitted at the shoulder and bust and loose through the waist and hip for an easy fit. It is not meant to cover bra straps, unless you're wearing a racer-back bra.

Sizing info:

This multi-sized pattern has been graded from size 2 to 22, which looks equivalent to US dress sizes. Taking my measurements and following their size info, I cut a size 8 around the shoulders and bust, grading out to a size 10 for the waist and hips. I also folded out 2cm of length just under the bust to account for my short-waisted-ness. Size-wise, I think it's pretty spot on. 

Fabric info:

I couldn't find any fabric suggestions on the website or the pattern PDF, so I went with a light-to-medium weight cotton/elastane single jersey, this one from Girl Charlee in fact. The quality of this fabric is really lovely, with a great stretch and recovery. It was perfect for this project, however I was a little disappointed that the 'gold' sparkles advertised on the GC website are actually a lot more yellow in the flesh. I reckon you could also use a baby rib for this pattern, and perhaps a interlock for a thicker tank.  


First, I must say that I found this pattern a real pleasure to use. Both the digitised pattern and the instructions are really well produced and very easy to follow. The instructions include clear diagrams to illustrate the construction steps, and the Durango tank would be a great project for a less experienced sewer, or someone new to working with knit. Based on my experience of this pattern, I would definitely go ahead and buy a Hey June pattern if one caught my eye. 

However, through no fault of the pattern's, I don't think the Durango tank is the tank pattern for me. Personally, I would prefer a lower neckline, less carved away armholes so my bra straps were covered, a little more shaping in the side seams, and neck and armhole bindings that are the same width as each other. If you search the #durangotank hashtag, you'll see heaps of other people's versions, many of which look really fantastic on the wearer. I think this style suits some people's figures (like Gillan herself) more than others, and that I'm not one of the lucky ones. I do, however, like a number of elements of this tank, including the fit around the bust, the curved hem, and the method of construction. 

Customisation ideas:

The Durango tank is a great basic pattern, but some ways that you could get even more use from it might include:
  • contrast neck and/or armhole bindings (perhaps in rib)
  • add seam lines for colour blocking
  • solid coloured front and a print or stretch lace back
  • redraw the armholes for a more defined racer back look
  • lengthen into a dress
  • as the website suggests, you could apply iron-on transfers or decals
  • add applique

Would I make it again?

No disrespect to this pattern, but I don't think I'll make it again for myself as it is. It's just not the shape of garment I'm looking for. I plan to lower and rebind the neckline on this garment to use as a sleeping top for hot weather, and I may use this pattern as a basis for drafting a different shaped tank because I'm happy with the sizing. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Unsustainability of Sewing

Have you heard about Earth Overshoot Day? Its definition (that I pilfered from this excellent website) is the date that marks when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of ecological resources and accumulating waste, primarily carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. You want to know when 2017's overshoot day was? 2nd August. How depressing is that? So, seeing as governments and businesses aren't taking committed action fast enough to reverse this, it also has to be up to individuals to take steps, where we can, to cut our consumption and therefore the use of energy and raw materials. And let's face it, those of us who have the time to write and read blogs about sewing are probably lucky enough to live relatively comfortable lives, most likely in a developed country. We're the individuals that are in a position to make some changes.

(my newly shortened gingham ruffle Tova dress)

So I've been thinking a lot lately about the unsustainability of sewing, and it has lead to a fair dose of soul searching. I used to think that making my own (and more recently my children's) clothing was a way in which I was making a contribution to reducing my carbon footprint and being more sustainable. In fact, as you may have noticed, the sub-heading of this blog is 'Sewing Sustainably with Style'. (Granted, I came up with that when I was making a lot of garments out of reclaimed textiles, usually secondhand clothing that otherwise might be heading to a landfill, which is probably a more environmentally sound approach than making stuff from brand new fabric.)

My thinking was: if I was making my own clothing, then I wouldn't be contributing so much to all that energy used by hauling raw materials, fabric, trims and finished garments around the globe, from cotton field to the shop floor. I would only be contributing to the fabric production and distribution bit, and powering my sewing machine and heating my iron. And I guess that that is true to a certain extent, but more recently I've been facing up to the fact that sewing is an energy and resource hungry pass time, and that it is unlikely that the carbon and water footprint of the stuff we sew for ourselves is much different than something we may have bought from Topshop. For example, making things in many multiples rather than singly saves a lot of energy per item, and fabric through tighter layplans. A lot has been written in recent years about the ills of the fashion industry, but I have yet to hear about an energy and resource study that makes a direct comparison between mass-produced and home sewn garments, anybody know of one? If one has been done, sadly I don't think us home sewers/ists would come off lightly.

My feeling is that the most sustainable way to dress yourself has to be by simply wearing the garments we already have, and when those things wear out, replacing them with second hand items. However, I'm not advocating that we all stop making our own clothes; you'll have to prise my sewing machine and fabrics sheers out of my cold, dead hands. There are heaps of benefits to sewing your own clothing, Tilly unearthed many of them whilst researching her fascinating provocation paper back in 2011. So my thoughts turn to how can we make home sewing a more sustainable thing to do?

Whatever way I approach this question, I always draw the same conclusion: we have to use our skills to make things that we want to wear many many times, and that will last for years. Obviously, that's probably not going to be possible straight away if you are new to sewing, it's impossible to learn without making mistakes. But when you've got some skills under your belt and know a bit about what you like, here's some things we can all do to ensure that we're sewing as sustainably as possible:
  • Use the best quality fabric you can afford. I know that I definitely plan a project more carefully and take my time to get a great fit and finish when I'm using some really special fabric. Not only is the outcome likely to be more to your taste and body shape, but a better quality fabric will probably hold up to repeated wear and laundering. 
  • Make a toile/muslin. Although making a toile/muslin as well as the finished garment effectively uses twice the fabric than just ploughing ahead with your 'fashion fabric' (not sure why I hate that term so much), but that toile can help iron out any potential fit issues that will lead to a successful finished garment. A 'meh' garment that gets worn only a few times, or  never, may well have been avoided. Plus, once you've perfected the fit of a sewing pattern, you're more likely to make multiple versions that you know will be a success, so working through that initial toile/muslin would have been even more worth while.
  • Returning to an imperfect make. If you can dig deep and find the patience to rework a sewing project that wasn't quite right, you are likely to thank yourself later. Remember this gingham modified Tova dress I made a few months ago?  I eventually mustered up the arsed-ness required to make a very simple modification, raising the hem so that the proportions of the garment worked better, and now it is literally my favourite garment I own and I feel fabulous in it (see pics above). 
  • Analyse your style. Like many sewers, I use Pinterest to ascertain exactly what themes, styles and colours of clothing appeal to me. I then frequently refer back to my boards for inspiration and to check that a new garment project idea is likely to be something that gels with my style and I'll really want to wear. Personally, I collate images of RTW (modern and vintage), other people's creations, sewing patterns I'd like to own, kid's clothing ideas and lots of other categories. Of course, you then have to apply another layer of analysis to check that what you'd like to make is also something that fits with your lifestyle, but I really think that Pinterest has been a huge help in learning about myself and reducing my number of sewing fails. I wish Pinterest has been around during those first couple of years when I was making my own stuff...
  • Getting a good fit. This is linked to the point about making a toile/muslin, of course, but it's worth emphasising again I think! Making a garment that not only look good on you, but also that feels comfortable and non-restrictive, will keep you reaching for that garment rather than passing it over when you're getting dressed in the morning. Let's be honest, if a garment is really comfortable, we'll often even over-look the 'looking good' bit! Hands up who's continued to wear maternity clothing for more than a few weeks after your baby was born... There is a TON of fitting advice on the interwebs, as well as many amazing books on the subject. Recently, I subscribed to a jeans fitting class on Craftsy which includes access to an amazing teacher that you can post questions to and share photos with who will respond with expert advice. 
I'd love to hear from you about this. Do you think 'sustainable sewing' is possible? Is the impact of this pass time a concern you've had? Can you think of any other tips for eliminating sewing project duds and making long-lasting clothing you love wearing?
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