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Ta Da! A disappearing act.

*SPOILER ALERT* I'm still alive!

Okay, so we both know some people need a bit of a blogging break now and then. It's normal right? Often this involves a week or two of not blogging just to get some balance back or concentrate on a life project .... and it's no different for me. Except that, well, let's not beat around the bush, my couple of weeks became a year … (and a half)! Oops.

Those of you who read my last posts before my disappearing act will know that the sewjo was at an all time low. It was lots of things, over commitment, too many sewalongs, an endless procession of pattern testing .... an avalanche of things I HAD to do. Just for the record I am not especially good at things I HAVE to do. I am not a process driven sewer, I love and am driven by the 'idea' of things .... the endless choice of an inspiring tumble of fabrics, cavalcades of pattern and an ocean of making possibilities. My bloke calls this my butterfly brain. There are many things butterfly brain does not go well with: rules, spreadsheets, admin stuff, in fact non self-imposed structure of any kind. No wonder then, that the more rigidly I felt bound to sewing deadlines and pattern testing projects, the more my interest disappeared. Til it was ... well, til it was gone.

Honestly, it was just like that. I woke up one morning and it wasn't there. I went to the sewing room, looked at all the heaps of beautiful fabric, lovely patterns, yarn, buttons and silks and I felt nothing. Nothing at all. Not even the merest rustle of interest. It felt 'empty' and that kind of scared me. I decided to ignore it. Instead, I concentrated on other things I enjoyed. I read, baked, worked, watched old movies and distracted myself by every other means possible in the hope that my crafting mojo would sneak back up on me and I'd feel creative again. However, it was to be MIA for a loooong time.

Several months later I was still ignoring. Slowly month followed month, through Christmas to Easter and I didn't want to sew, knit or make anything. During this time I also expanded my business, moved premises and hired more team members. I started running (I know, how random!) and completed the couch to 5k program (then I fell over on my way to a client meeting and split my leg open on some iron fencing. Doh. I stopped running). It was now summer and work was crazy busy. I had no spare time at all and making things seemed like a distant memory. 

In late summer something arrived. Unfortunately not the little creativity butterflies but instead a thumping big CLEAR IT OUT mindset. Now, I have no idea how this happened to me. There was a lot of blog talk at the time about Kon Mari and her magic books of tidying. I was my normal cynical self and laughed when a friend first told me about the book, but she begged me to read it and told me it had changed her life. So, somewhat reluctantly I read the first few pages.

I finished the book that same night and with autumn approaching my bloke and I started on a BIG clear out. I'm not going to lie, it took us months. We live in a small cottage, yet the staggering amount of stuff we had managed to accumulate in the nine years we've lived in our house was mind blowing. No wonder it wouldn't all fit! I knew I meant business when I managed to give away three sackfuls of shoes to the local charity shop without flinching. It even had red shoes in it! Red shoes … possibly my favouriteist things in the known universe. From bedding to underwear, DVDs to baking equipment we decluttered, minimised and organised. It was November when we finished. The house (and we) breathed a massive sigh of relief. (Just a wee note to those of you still cynical about the process and how long the results last … the house has stayed like this for 4 months and we never have to hunt for stuff any more. It truly has changed our life and our buying habits).

As for the sewing shed … it was unrecognisable in its newly organised and colour coordinated layout. I had destashed massively and donated huge swathes of fabric to charity quilting groups and our local resource centre, only keeping things I really loved. As I stood in the centre of my creative space I felt the little sparks of potential all around me … and the joy of rediscovering fabric long since buried. I am lucky to have some really lovely stuff. I spent a couple of Saturday afternoons mulling over patterns and looking at yarn and then something really wonderful happened … we welcomed a brand new member to our family. Meet Miss E.

Now, for those of you with good memories you'll recall that babies and I have a somewhat chequered history. Generally I have to force my face into a reluctant smile when I am handed one, trying not to remark that it looks like an evil gnome whilst secretly wishing it would transform into an entirely more appealing basket of fluffy kittens. Baby are, well, let's face facts … dull, with only four distinct operational modes: sleeping, crying, poohing & puking. However, not this time. As soon as she was born I was smitten and got an immediate itch to make something. Surprisingly, first out of the creativity shed was some wool to make a tiny berry hat. I've made these before and they are quick and simple to do and make any new mum coo with cuteness. As E's mum's fav colour is purple, I opted for a rich damson for this version, to make a mini plum hat. I finished doing the icord leaf stalk just two minutes before we went to meet our new addition. Needless to say it was a hit!

I had forgotten just what a lovely feeling it is to give someone something you have made with your own hands. Powerful stuff. 

Following the plum hat success I was loitering around the yarn section of my local John Lewis when I saw an adorable pattern for a knitted fox. I fell in love with him and before you could blink had some orange, cream and black wool and a pattern tucked under my arm. When I told my Mum I was knitting a toy for a baby she looked at me like I was crazy. "You … You are knitting a toy?!" I must admit, it is out of character, and I have spent many happy years laughing scornfully at Jean Greenhowe's wonky scarecrows/clowns etc, but now I too have gone to the stocking stitch dark side! Lo and behold Rupert Foxley of Foxley Manor was born. I had a hard time giving this little fellow away (and between you and I have bought enough yarn to knit another for myself. Shusssshhh, don't tell my mum!). Miss E loves him.

Now, do ya see what I did there?! I snuck in some sewing when you weren't looking. That cute little winter fox dress and the eyecatching elephant adorned tunic dress with matching stripey binding and leggings … yep, you'd best sit down because I know it's a shock but I actually SEWED something. Ta da! Both are Lillestoffe fabric from the lovely KitschyCoo, the most divine organic cotton jersey in gorgeously graphic jewel toned prints. Surely the best possible thing for children's wear. The little fox dress is an adaptation of the Skater Dress (a special sized down version for wee bairns) and then the tunic and leggings were picks from Etsy downloadable pdfs. I have to say that children's clothes are great … tiny pieces so you can make them from the eensiest bits of fabric, zero fitting (woo hoo) and short, short seams. I ran these babies up on the overlocker and they took less than an hour each. Ultimate feel good sewing.

With these under my belt I decided it was time for a little sewing for me. So what to sew when it's been a long time since you made anything for yourself? Well, I knew it would have to be a knit as they are so much more forgiving in the fitting department. I went through my saved posts on Bloglovin and kept coming back to Cashmerette's Appleton Dress. When the dress was released I was immediately intrigued .... patterns you could make as a full busted woman that didn't require messing around with sticky tape, tissue paper and rulers for the afternoon … count me in! I also couldn't find a single bad version of the dress in the blogosphere – it seemed to work with all kinds of stretch fabric on every kind of figure. My fellow CSC buddy Jenny had also been kind enough to send me a copy of the pattern when it was released.

DISCLAIMER: Just FYI, a free pattern does not equate to a biased review. I'm always going to tell it exactly like it is, because, well … that's how I roll!

Anyhow, I spent the whole of Sunday in my newly organised sewing space. I found some thin viscose knit I ordered from the internet several years ago to use as a toile. My plan was to make a wearable muslin (we'll come back to this shortly). I started by cutting out the fabric (in single layers so as to get the best possible outcome) while listening to the David Bowie tributes on the radio. I sang along loudly along to Diamond Dogs, Life on Mars and generally remembered all the reasons I loved sewing in my little shed as I worked. Ferris the cat came along throughout the day to helpfully lay in the middle of my fabric, rub his face on the sewing table and paw at my knee for food. It was a lovely time.

Happy with my cutting out I gathered up my pieces to start sewing. I had the handy sewalong posts to reference for the tricksier parts of the pattern (although it's simple it does require some thought on the facing bands and ties), when I realised something had gone awry. I don't know if it was the singing a-long that meant my attention dropped or constantly opening the door for my visiting purry friend but somehow I managed to end up with this …

Eeek! Oh dear. I somehow managed to cut two fronts the same way round (even after spending ages checking I wasn't). Bugger. Please excuse the inside out lower front. Still, at least it's a pretty good fit. I think my biceps are a bit bulgier than most as I need another inch or so on the widest part of my upper arm, otherwise, for something run up straight from the pack it's looking pretty good. I am going to go for a slightly thicker knit in my final version as I feel pretty exposed in this and it seems to highlight a bit of a sausage belly issue at the moment. That may not be the pattern, it may just be my sausage belly, but I'll keep you posted. I guess I could always wear it with a pair of Big Pants. For me, at 5ft 6 the waist was perfect and the built in swayback adjustment also a blessing. My only other observation is that the three quarter length sleeves run a little short to the norm (although if you check out the picture of Jenny on the pattern envelope it's a good representation) – once hemmed I would definitely say they were more of a long elbow length so you might want to add a little length depending on your personal preference. However, the big bonus of the pattern? As promised by the blurb, the girls are safely covered and the wrap section does not move … at all! Awesome.

Meanwhile I have made a crazy eBay purchase of some outrageous leopard meets denim meets rose print polyester knit to give this pattern another go. It's a better weight but I'm not sure even I can pull off such a crazy print. It's on the cutting table so time will tell.

I have to say, it's good to be writing again. I have missed this whole blogging thing. Thanks, as always, for reading. 




The Sewjo Returns Rose Dress

If any garment could pull me from a seemingly endless sewing slump it would be a Lady Skater Dress. I have made so many versions of this Kitschy Coo number that I have had to trace the pattern twice already, as my first version has fallen apart! This is my easiest "go to" pattern for a work outfit. Pick any random jersey fabric, cut it out, spend some quality time with your overlocker and 2 hours later it's done. Ta da! It always fits perfectly, is so comfortable to wear and you can dress it up or down.

I have made so many versions of this lovely pattern. But I have to admit that this one started as a disaster. The fabric was something I picked up cheap off ebay and although I was smitten with the print online, when it arrived, although I still loved the huge cobalt blue roses with copper centres, I noticed the fabric had a weird brushed feel to it on the right side. Undetered, in one of those misguided "oh it will be alright" moments, I ploughed ahead with a flouncy sleeve spring/summer version. I made the bodice, inserted the sleeves and then realised it wasn't going to work. The fluted sleeves that looked so gorgeous on my La Isla Bonita dress were totally out of kilter with something that felt autumnal when you touched it. I remember throwing it dramatically onto The Pile.

The Pile is a dangeous place in my sewing room. It houses all kinds of creations, from those that took ages to make but just aren't quite right (normally sans hems or proper finishing) to things I have totally fallen out of love with but can't bear to get rid of the fabric I invested. I am convinced it is a wormhole to another dimension as things seem to magically appear and disappear willy nilly. Not many garments make it out of The Pile.

Fast forward to the Christmas holidays. In a final bid to overcome by missing sewjo I undertook a major tidy up and renovation of the sewing shed. Including, yes, you guessed it … The Pile. This half-make and its remaining fabric was a couple of inches down – I had forgotten how soft and lovely it felt. I yanked it out for closer inspection and decided to do a mini makeover on the half finished dress. I should like to pause for a moment here to remember those garments lost in another dimension from my tidy up. Once The Pile was cleared the inter-dimensional portal closed and those makes the other side are now lost forever … However, I shall await the day with interest when one of our space probes encounters a giraffe print blouse bodice with no sleeves floating above the dark side of Uranus. Don't say I didn't warn you …

Anyhow, it was time for some major seam ripping as I got rid of those summery sleeves. I didn't have much fabric left but there was enough to cut out full length sleeves, having decided if it was going to be a warm and cosy dress it needed the warmest and cosiest option. I inserted the seam in the round rather than described in the pattern simply because I had run out of love for unpicking more seams on a fluffyish knit fabric. Yeah, I know, sometimes I am such a lightweight!

It was time to attach the skirt, after I added some side seam pockets (using those from my Moneta pattern). For me a dress or a skirt feels lacking without pockets nowadays. Adding pockets doesn't take long and, although many sewers pooh pooh the idea of side seam pockets in a knit dress, I am a convert. I tried it on and the top and sleeves were great but, oh dear … what had happened to the skirt?! 

The skirt was very short. Not just "Hello peeking knees" short but more of a "Uh oh, please don't bend over" short. The more I looked in the mirror, the more I realised it was very, very short indeed. It appeared in my hurry to cut this dress out I had forgotten to add my customary 2 inches to the hem, and for some reason with the way this fabric falls it came up even shorter. I looked at the fabric I had left over … there really wasn't much, but I though there might be just enough to squeeze out a band to use for the hem if I pieced it. So that's exactly what I did. It is a very long way around the hem of a Lady Skater skirt. Just saying.

Actually, I'm really pleased with the finished dress, although it's still about an inch and a half shorter than my ideal. (I have now written a big note to myself on my skirt pattern piece as a reminder.) Those eagle eyed readers will probably also notice my dramatically placed grey rose over one boob. There were so many obstacles to pattern placement with this fabric I can't tell you. In the end the choice was rose over boob or slap bang in the middle of my chest. The centre front option looked terrible, that kind of central placement I think only really works with a mirror print, so I picked floral boob instead (I decided I have the "tude" to carry it off!).

This will be my last dress for a while as I am about to change up my sewing over the next few months. After lots of feedback The Curvy Sewing Collective is about to launch the Season of Separates challenge, where we will be tackling trousers, skirts and tops. As this is a major gap in my wardrobe and something I always have problems with in RTW I am looking forward to honing my separates skills.

If you'd like to join for February's instalment as we learn the intricacies of crotch depth and other "pant" sewing mysteries then pop over to the Curvy Sewing Collective site and grab yourself a badge.


Lost in the sewing wilderness

An epic adventure starring a hapless curvy sewer, dangerous pointy needles, extra sharp scissors, a missing mojo and fabric. Lots and lots of fabric. WARNING: This post contains an image that organised sewers may find extremely upsetting.

You know, even now I am not quite sure how I got here. I think it was a combination of too much work, a giant charity branding project and other everyday stuff just piling on in that made me first lose my footing. I was a working twelve hours a day in my real job and slotting everything else in to weekends. At the end of September I started working weekends too. From there on in it was a steep decline, a short holiday, weeks of extra late nights at the studio, followed by building and launching a charity bookshop (goodbye the whole of October), working part time in the charity shop, baking for the shop - all little bits and bobs that chipped away at any moment of potential free time and left sewing at the very bottom of my agenda. More recently a couple of our friends became very poorly, and two weeks ago we lost someone dear. Yesterday, I woke up and thought, "Wow, when did I last make something?" Scarily, I couldn't remember.

"Forgive me sewing gods, it has been 16 weeks since my last French seam ..."

So here I stay, midst the sewing thread tumbleweeds and pincushion cacti of the sewing wilderness.

Now, you long term sewers out there will know that serious crafting has ebbs and flows. When you sew, knit or make for many years you can go through odd moments where you just ... stop. I have had a couple of these myself, normally after moving house, at the end of a bad relationship – you know the kind of thing – all life stuff that mean you need to take a little time to readjust and reset. Then one day it just "clicks" back in and you start making stuff again.

This time though, I am still waiting for the "click".

Worse still, in these months of sewing abstinence something very odd has happened in my sewing shed. This well ordered and cathartic space at the bottom of the garden has been ransacked by what I can only assume is an undiscovered species of fabric loving alien. How else, my friends, could you explain this?

Holy shit.

The best thing about having a sewing shed at the bottom of the garden is that it is tucked away undisturbed by the day to day household business. The worst thing about having a sewing shed at the bottom of the garden is that it is tucked away undisturbed by the day to day household business! This means that in the course of many weeks of; "Oh, I'll just pop it in the shed.", "Babe, where are the scissors?" "I think they are in the shed, go and have a rummage ..." you are left with this result. Or, of course you may also have been visited by a new alien subspecies desperate to make fabric nests in which to repopulate the earth. Just saying.

I show you these photos purely in the interests of scientific research and in the hope that many of you will understand my current dilemma. You see I really want to sew, but it has been so long to be honest I am almost afraid of starting. Obviously, first I have to clear away the debris of hurricane fabric storm, but then ... well, then I just don't know. Sewing I think is like baking, you have to be in the right frame of mind, which is why making stuff when you're stressed never ends well.

So my sewing sisters, any ideas on how to find my sewing mojo? Tips on what to tackle first? Or advice on how to remove aliens from your garden shed? All gratefully received.

Merry Christmas to you all and thanks for all your support and comments this year.

The Heffalump Top (with bonus nipple decoration)

Brace yourself lovelies … there will not only be discussion of private pointy body parts in this post but also a curvy plus size body wearing an elephant print no less. (What can I say, I enjoy living life on the edge.)

Well, with that warning in place, let's get down to details. 

You have probably noticed that here in the sewing blogosphere it is Selfish Sewing time. This is normally no biggie for me as I love to make myself stuff more than I like sewing things for other people … but this year it has been tricky to say the least. In the midst of three new people joining my team at the design studio and adding a whole new arm to the business I have had very long work days. I am also helping in turning a small run down warehouse into a fully functioning charity bookshop (opening in one month) which is where I have been spending pretty much every other spare waking moment. Basically, it has left me with no time at all to sew.

I didn't realise how much I love the time I have to sew until I didn't have it any more. Sewing is my ultimate quiet time – just me and the machine tucked away at the bottom of the garden. The process of making something can be a slow and serene experience (I know, it isn't always) but there is something wonderful about the process that makes me calm. Then I had six weeks where I couldn't sew.

I am sure non sewers wouldn't have a clue what I am talking about, but just two weeks in to my sewing diet and I was tetchy. I started to get sad everytime I caught sight of a lovely make on bloglovin, or a new pattern that caught my eye. I have to be honest, by week five my need to sew was almost overwhelming. This is why, when I was contacted by Rachel at ImagineGnats to see if I fancied being one of this year's Selfish Sewers I said an immediate "Yes!".

As one of the featured bloggers you get to pick an indie pattern to sew with (kindly donated by the designer in question). I picked the Trifecta Top by Amanda at Kitschycoo. As you all know, I am totally smitten with her Lady Skater dress and have also had brilliant results with the Comino Dress. I also knew that I could find time to squeeze it in, because knit tops are so speedy!

I already had some of Amanda's lovely knit fabric in my stash, so decided to use this striking elephant print for the top. I cut the straight size eight although next time I will allow a little more width as I near my hips, but, other than that one change it fits really well. It was a breeze to sew up although there were some issues to think about regarding the print placement.

So, let's look a little more closely at those lovely elephants. Obviously, with this large and bold pattern it needed to be cut symmetrically, so I used the central pattern design of the vertical heart motifs as my midpoint. Now, see that blue dot underneath the elephants? This was my problem area … I first thought that the top would look better with the elephant pattern teardrop centrally placed over each boob .... but then was a little concerned about the blue dot (secondary droopy nipple anyone?) once on. The next plan – I moved the pattern piece down but then I ended up with a little flourish right over each nipple – it looked far too much like a nipple tassle – so it was back to the drawing board. 

After much umming and ahhing, in the end, as you can see, I went back to my original plan, centering each elephant teardrop over my chest, and other than the worryingly dropped blue nipple issue, I am very happy with how this turned out. It was so quick to sew and makes a lovely easy top to wear with jeans. The pattern also has other options for combining print, from a triangular inset to shoulder accents and a gorgeous V-neck version.

The other slight error in my construction of the top was due to me fiddling with the sleeve length (That'll learn me, as my nan would say.) I decided to cut the sleeve a little longer than marked on the pattern – but I didn't decrease the width of the accompanying contrast band, so these are wider than they should be. I've decided to live with it as is for now and see how I feel after a couple of wears, as I can always use the magic stitch ripper of destruction and try again. Anyhow, I kind of like how that sleeve works for now.

Lastly, the length was very long on me (I am so short waisted) so I lopped off a good two inches on the hem and also gave it a gentle curve before I finished it with a twin needle hem.

So, there you have it, the no nipple tassle pink heffalump top. Awesome.

Many thanks to Rachel and to Amanda. Here's wishing us all lots of time for sewing (selfish and otherwise) as we tumble into Autumn. If you're feeling uninspired, check out all the amazing sewers and indie patterns in the current Selfish Sewing week:


Featured Stitchers
Featured Indie Pattern Designers

A pea green dress for a perfectionist

My mission: to design, draft and make a dress for Catherine, secret ninja, BFF and ultimate perfectionist to wear to the By Hand London party. Simple, non? Actually, no. This was a task fraught with peril at every turn.

First of all, let me tell you a little more about my lovely friend Catherine ... Behind that beautiful smile and those sparkly eyes lies a warrior princess. Seriously ... don't be deceived by the banana grinning loon, she is actually trained to kill. With nine years in the army, not only is she at home with a variety of lethal weapons, but she can also do combat rolls (personally verified) and can still do wonderful marching if you make loud tschtschtsch noises (despite being a civilian for almost two decades).

In addition to her military skill set she is also a proud guardian of all wildlife and is the only person who has ever convinced me to drive two and a half hours with an injured crow on my lap to take it to the wildlife hospital in the hope it would recover. (Yes, actually, it did). It also pecked my hand, cawed and poohed on me during the journey – just saying. From bees to beetles and frogs to hedgehogs, no rescue is too small or too arduous. Trouble is, this has rubbed off on me, and I now rescue all kinds of creatures for rehousing from inside our little cottage. (Rumour has it the spiders of the world would like to personally thank her for my re-education.)

More astonishingly, this new skill set of mine has proved useful. Having watched Catherine save all manner of creatures over the years, I recently had the chance to try one of her wildlife saving tips for myself when a very poorly bee landed on a blanket right by my hand. The poor thing looked exhausted and couldn't even get up the energy to fly. I moved it to a spot in the full sun to warm it up and then administered a teaspoon of honey mixed with warm water on a spoon as per my carzy friend's instructions. To my astonishment, the battered bee crawled towards the spoon and then drank almost all the honey nectar. After half an hour or so of cleaning himself, warming up and wing testing, he then flew off restored.

Amazing! I only knew how to do that thanks to intensive training because I am besties with crazy nature girl.

To top it all Catherine is an hilarious and brilliant person to have adventure with. We have had some epic days and riotous evenings in the many years we have been friends, from the night sharing an upside down bed in the dairy of a medieval castle to a long weekend foodie trawl through Antwerp (who knew that there is actually a limit now much marzipan ice cream two women can eat?) We've even donned kaleidoscope specs and sailed in a mini fruit slice rowing boat through a spangly banana tunnel underneath pineapple island and breathed in the banana smoke (there were no drugs involved in that incident I can assure you.)

The only other thing you need to know about Catherine is that she is a high maintenance perfectionist. At this point in the proceedings she will of course protest that she is in fact low maintenance – but it's not true. She is like Sally in When Harry met Sally when she orders food … "I would like that but without the dressing, and with that on the side, oh and can I swap that for this, and I'd like this in this way …" She is the only person I have ever met who will try on every single size 6 shoe in the shop in the style she likes to make sure she gets the optimum fit for both individual feet. (Nope, I am not joking.) As you can imagine, it makes shopping a little bit like an endurance race and the assistants think she's a little bit "special" while the whole 'every shoe in the shop' trying on ensues. This is just a weeny example of her "just so" attitude … and I am telling you the girl can't help it. I love her for it and normally it makes me laugh, but then normally I am not making a garment for her.

Anyhow, I digress. It was summer and as a contributor to the By Hand London ladies printing start up campaign I received an invitation to their little launch do up in London. I asked Catherine if she'd like to accompany me up to London for the evening, and bless her, she said "yes". (I am aware that it is a great sacrifice for a non sewing person to agree to spending the whole evening in the company of sewing fanatics, but I did add to the appeal of the event by telling her about the Prosecco that would be flowing). And then I thought, "Ah, but as everyone will be sporting handmade garments, so perhaps I should make Catherine a dress …"

I know, I know, at that moment I didn't even think about what I was getting myself into (that only happened later). I should also tell you that I have only once before tried to make something for Catherine and that was when I got married. I foolishly thought that in the run up to the wedding, as well as making shirts for two ushers and a pageboy, that I would be able to make my wedding dress, a shirt for my bloke and two bridesmaids dresses (one of which was destined for Catherine). Three toiles later, and with a fit that still resembled a sack of potatoes in silk dupion, we piled the whole lot in the cupboard, drove to the department store and bought her a bridesmaid dress.

With just a couple of weeks to go before the "do", I did rationalise a little and plumped for a knit fabric for the new dress, as with a serger this was a more realistic and manageable goal. Then, when I couldn't find a pattern that either of us liked, I turned instead to a jersey maxi dress that Catherine had recently bought. "Well", I said flippantly, "I can make you one just like that." *Sigh* My mum always said my mouth would get me into trouble one of these days! Actually, to start with I thought it would be okay. After all, it was just like a long T-shirt dress, how hard could it be?! It was only when I started to lay out the dress onto my tissue paper and stick pins in through the seams to mark out my new garment seam lines that I realised this was going to be very tricky indeed … as the dress I was copying was an extremely lightweight and slippery viscose jersey and moved as if it was alive. Once this hurdle was overcome (pinning down the offending garment with every manner of tin from my larder as improvised pattern weights) I realised I had absolutely no idea how I could work out the volume of the fabric that was extra in the puffs at the top of the sleeve or the gathers around the neckline. Oops.

After a couple of sleepless nights of putting it off I realised I was just going to have to improvise, or Catherine would be going to the party naked, so I cut the dress out with my best guesses at the neck and sleeve head. The construction was okay, until I got to the neck band. On the original dress this was a kind of bias rollover finish, but I couldn't figure out how they then got the gathers in. I tried it like this and then after a very tearful evening in the company of a large glass of wine and the stitch ripper I realised that wasn't going to work. Instead I gathered and basted the front neckline and then stitched the folded band on, a bit more like my lady skater dresses and that worked a treat. Not so neat on the inside as the shop bought version, but mine laid flatter and had a lovely curve.

I still love the fabric I used, a bargain buy off ebay at just £3.99 a metre. Green is Catherine's favourite colour … from peas to frogs … and as soon as I saw this print I knew it was the one. There was some drama in the hemming of the frock, as by now we were two evenings away from the function, but in the end it all turned out fine. The hem has dropped a little since its first wearing so I think another wee chop and rehem will be in order soon. I was so relieved that I finished the dress (in the nick of time) that the bits that aren't so perfect I've decided to ignore.

Luckily, Catherine seems to love it anyway. Here is the dress on party night attending a train picnic (courtesy of Catherine ably assisted by Marks and Spencer), and outside the venue chatting to the gorgeous and leggy Rachel from House of Pinheiro. We had an absolute blast that evening.

The moral of the story? That I can draft a dress from an existing garment, even if I end up stabbing myself repeatedly with pins in the process and swearing enough to fill up the largest swear box in the world. I also learnt not to obsess over perfection when making for your friends as it will cause you an awful lot of additional stress and worry, and let's face facts … how many totally perfect garments have you sewn? I probably have two things I have made that I can find not a single fault with – it's a tricky business this sewing lark. Lastly, try and remember that the recipient will almost certainly be delighted by the fact that you took the time and effort to make something for them, and even the ultimate perfectionists out there will overlook any flaws, because that is why they are your friend! :-)


Las Isla Bonita Señorita Skater

Hóla! The urge to make something Iberian inspired overtook me as soon as I laid eyes on this gorgeous floral jersey. A seductive and passionate mix of hot pink, turquoise and lime flowers on a deep black background it said sultry and Spanish to me straight away. It demanded ruffles and flounces, hoop earrings and the stamp of flamenco shoes to the click of castanets. I imagined myself wearing it in a tiny bar in one of the squares in Seville, sipping aromatic sangria while shooting steely glances over the top of a lace fan.  

It also made me think about the dresses my mum used to wear in the late seventies. She was queen of the flounce in those days, and when you look back at the patterns from the time they are laden with ruffling, frills and tiering in every conceivable place. My mum's favourite make at the time was a ruffled skirt. A plain waistband with a gathered skirt, that would then fall into more and more ruffled tiers as you reached the hem. My favourite was a black and white polka dot version that she would pair with wedges, a cheescloth peasant blouse and a velvet choker. As she moved you would catch peeks of the broiderie anglaise trimmed cotton petticoat that gave the skirt its added swoosh. 

I looked at loads of knit dress patterns as a starting point. For a short while it was almost a Moneta. Some things were a given – as we fall headlong into summer here in England it would absolutely have to have short sleeves. However, I'm not keen on plain T-shirt style sleeves on my upper arms. Hmmm, some planning was in order before I cut this baby out.

I was definitely set for ruffles on my dress, and in the end I decided the skirt on my TNT Lady Skater pattern would work best for that. But the short sleeves didn't appeal. I thought about the summer sleeve shapes I liked in my ready to wear tops – and found the bell sleeve. That added flounce would be perfect on this dress! I set about turning my plain short sleeve into a flouncy bell.

I painstakingly cut and pulled apart the traced tissue piece for my sleeve, extending the bottom hem edge significantly in width. I tweaked and fiddled and amended the new bottom curved edge til it looked perfect. Because this was such an extraordinary undertaking for me I decided to take pictures of the process, as they would make a great tutorial to share with you lovely people. Excellent plan! I took photos at each step, so that anyone wanting to make a bell sleeve adjustment on a sleeve wouldn't have to suffer my traumatic exerience. This is where I share that process with you …except … I've lost my camera.

I should also point out that this was not a little camera to lose. It was a massive and clunky Nikon D300 with a big ole lens wacked on the front. It's not the kind of object you can lose between some sheets of paper or tucked into a pile of newly washed socks. Neither my bloke or I have seen hide nor hair of the Nikon for the best part of a month now. We have ransacked the whole house top to bottom many times, along with the car, the sewing shed, my office, his office … and it has literally gone without a trace (my lovely sleeve adjustment pics along with it). 

Anyway, because I wasn't sure if my new sleeve pattern piece would work I cut it from some other scrap jersey fabric and basted it in place. It was pretty perfect for a first attempt. A little on the long side so I shaved off some of the length, cut them out and set about inserting the new sleeves into the dress for real. 

I love the little flounce that the bell sleeve gives the Lady Skater. It's unexpected and girly and incredibly comfortable to wear. Next up was the skirt. As usual I added to the bottom circumference of the skirt piece to use the full width of my fabric - it just gives it more va va voom in the wearing. I cut some pockets from my Moneta dress pattern (I T, do solemnly swear, that I shall never ever make another dress or skirt without pockets because they are such darned useful accoutrements). Then it was all about the frill …

There are basic maths rules to do with frill widths and as I recall to get a nice looking frill you need at least double the measurement of your edge. I looked at the fabric I had left – I had enough to cut four widths of the fabric. At 60"/150cm wide that gave me 240"/6m of fabric. Yay! Ah, foolishly I started out by thinking this was a good thing. Then I realised there is a very good reason that you don't normally see ruffles on knit dresses. It's because they are, as my ex mother in law would say, "a whole lot of work honey". Let this be a warning to you all – jersey does not gather well by traditional methods. Believe me, I tried and I quickly realised the only way I was going to get even gathers in this frill would be to pin the whole thing by hand. 

It took three evenings to divide the frill around the skirt and then pin and gather each segment. I would work on each section until I had used all my pins, sew it and then pull out all the pins to start again on the next. Did I mention I took some lovely photos of the process so that … oh. *sigh*

Sometimes, though, painstaking things are worth the effort and I was delighted with my finished frill hem. The weight of the jersey at the bottom gives the skirt this wonderful swing, so that it continues moving long after I have. I submit all skirts and dressed to the twirl test (a patented move I have been practising since my sixth birthday) and this one's a doozie!

So there we have it, one La Isla Bonita Senorita Skater dress, perfect for sultry spanish nights or prancing through an English meadow. Did you notice my lovely matchy matchy necklace and bracelet? These are entirely credited to my mum who gave up one of her leisurely Saturday afternoons to help me make them. What can I say – she's great like that and a total jewellery making goddess. 

I have already cut out and nearly finished another bell sleeved Lady Skater, although this time sans ruffles and in a very short length for me (knees out and all). Shocking. More details coming soon. In the meantime, if you happen to see a sad little Nikon wandering the streets looking lost, with his lens cap tucked into a folded kerchief on a twig, please send him home again. The house isn't the same without him.


The Curvy Sewing Collective Launch

My mum always said that when I went quiet something was afoot – and guess what, she was right! In the midst of the radio silence over the last couple of weeks and distinct lack of blog posts I have been busy beavering away on a different project. A project that goes live today.

It has taken months of planning and talking and writing (and sometimes synchronising virtual meetings over three continents) but it is finally done. So, without further ado, ladeeze and gentlemens … the Curvy Sewing Collective would like to present our brand new website.


This new website is a dedicated online resource for curvy sewists to meet, share and be inspired. In addition to tutorialstechniquescurvy stylepattern reviews and articles on curvy confidence, there is also a forum you can join to help us build an amazing international curvy sewing community. Or, if you'd like to be even more involved, why not sign up to become a CSC contributor?

Today, launch day, we already have a host of wonderful articles to inspire you. Head on over to the site to check it out.

To keep up to date with news, sewalongs and giveaways you can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

What are you waiting for? I'll see you there!

p.s. I have been sewing, promise. Normal blog posting will be resumed shortly.


Shorts … the final frontier?

For me, being part of the Curvy Sewing Collective is about pushing the boundaries and challenging the stereotypes for curvy and plus size women. This is particularly true of the sewing world where almost every pattern designed as a specific plus size range magically transforms itself into a shapeless, wafty tent. Quite why the big four pattern companies feel that anyone over a size 16 should hide themselves 'neath heavily patterned interpretations of potato sacks is beyond me. Obviously, not all garments should be fitted like corsets, but even if you're making a simple shift dress, it should at least skim some of your body, rather than flood it in gathers, pleats and acres of extra fabric. Basically, this limited choice sucks.

However, what is wonderful is that there are a growing number of forward thinking indie designers out there who are prepared to challenge this thinking. They are making fun and fitted patterns for a never seen before range of shapes and sizes. The impact of this on us plus sizers should not be underestimated. It allows us to sew things that previously would have been unthinkable. Things like fitted shorts. *gulp*

I am pretty happy with my legs, well, truth be told, some bits of my legs. I am blessed with a shapely ankle and an okay pair of pins til I get to my knees, and then, I have to be honest, I lose the love a little. They are perfectly serviceable upper legs, they can tap dance up a storm and carry me miles in any chosen direction, but mostly I prefer not to have them on full show on a daily basis. Apparently I am not alone in this opinion. It also turns out, after some discussion with my girlfriends, that shorts on a plus size figure are a contentious issue. Seriously. This rational bunch of modern thinking women made the following comments when I mentioned I was pattern testing a pair of fitted A line shorts:

"Well, you know there are some things a big girl just shouldn't wear."

"Really? Are you sure you want to have that on your blog?"

I could feel my slack-jawed incredulous fish mouth approaching, so I shut up and let the topic die. You know what makes me most sad about those remarks? The fact that these women, my friends, feel that just because you are bigger you should be limited on what you are "allowed" to wear. You may have gathered that I am not an "it's allowed/not allowed" kind of gal. F*** it. If I want to wear a floaty potato sack, a pair of hot pants or a bikini, I will damn well do so, because I will not have society dictate how it is okay (or not okay) to express myself in fashion. As an act of outright "allowed to" rebellion I am seriously considering making a swimming costume this summer and yes, if I do there will be blog photos. Better watch out Fat Fashion Police … I'm gunning for you!

Okay, mini rant over … back to the shorts pattern in question.

This particular pattern is the brain child of Katy & Laney and is their debut pattern. The Tap Shorts are fitted at a high waist and A-line in silhouette, much like the movie stars of the 1950s would wear, and feature three versions, with options including an invisible zippered side seam, an unusual front pleat and back welt pockets. Like many of the Curvy Sewing Collective I tested View A. The pattern was easy to assemble and cut out, with perfectly matching symbols. 

Because I was unsure how the pattern would work for my shape I decided to make a muslin. Much though I hate to do them, recent fit issues on seemingly simple patterns have led me to be a bit more cautious than normal. I cut the straight size 18 which worked perfectly for fit. I made the waistband a bit deeper and overall it was good, but I had two issues. First up was the design pleat …this looked perfectly lovely on someone with a flat stomach, but my stomach is not flat. In fact, even if I lay down on the floor and suck it in, it still has a gentle curve. The implications of a rounded belly in combination with the pleat in my muslin version made it look like my stomach was trying to talk every time I moved. The huge fabric "mouth" was going to need some addressing. Secondly, I felt it the fit was too tight over my stomach, again I think because I need extra width in the centre front area.

For the final version I used a lovely tiny star print stretch denim from, a sister fabric to the gorgeous floral denim I used for my Betsy skirt. To alleviate my fitting issues I topstitched down the front pleats (I think pretty much everyone in the Curvy Sewing Collective who made the View A shorts did the same). I also added half an inch or so to the centre front as per the instructions in my Pants for Real People book. That made a massive difference to the front view. As for the back view, I decided that the full welt pockets would add too much bulk, but I was keen to break up the expanse of fabric over my rear, so I added two fake welts.

The jury is still out on the length of these shorts as for me I think they would be more flattering in a slightly shorter or longer fit. When I looked at my RTW shorts they are either a couple of inches longer or shorter than these, so that will definitely be an adjustment I make in the future. So in summary, this is a good A line shorts pattern. The high waist makes them very comfortable to wear, but if you do have a rounded stomach you may find yourself having to fiddle with the fit. I would definitely recommend a muslin.

Why not mosey on over to the other sewistas on the Katy & Laney Tap Short blog tour to see how these shorts work on a myriad of other figures. Mary at Idle Fancy ran up view C with slash side pockets and a fly front which I think look awesome.

The Katy & Laney Tap Short Tour

Thursday June 12th: Heather at Closet Case Files

Friday June 13th: Ping at Peneloping

Saturday June 145h: Jenny at Cashmerette

Monday June 16th: Mary at Idle Fancy

Wednesday June 18th: Sarah at Grey's Fabric & Notions

Thursday June 19th: Jennifer at Workroom Social

Friday June 20th: Kelli at True Bias

Saturday June 21st: Mary at Young, Broke & Fabulous

Sunday June 22nd: T at Uandmii

Tuesday June 24th: MacKenzie at Some Real Things

This garment concludes a long line of pattern testing over the last few months and it's been extremely enjoyable to push myself and make things out of my sewing comfort zone. It's been a wonderful opportunity to work with some great indie designers and raise awareness of the curvy and plus size sewing community. That being said, I am aware there has been something of a hoo-haa of late about the whole pattern testing business. Just to set the record straight here, I am always honest about the good and bad points of patterns I post about and will continue to do so. Without exception all the indie designers I have tested for have been brilliant at receiving feedback and have given me great tips in the making process. No payment is made by the designers other than the goodwill gesture of sending me the new pattern to test for free (and there I was holding out for a basket of kittens!). Hope that clears that up.

Anyhoo … now the testing is over I am so excited to sew whatever I like from my stash! I have such plans. I am tempted to take a day off work just so I can lay in the middle of a nest of fabric stash and wait for the sewing mojo to overtake me. I have already cut out and nearly finished a very European take on the Lady Skater dress … with ruffles. Yes, I do think I am John Travolta's girlfriend in Saturday Night Fever. Bring me my cork heeled wedges and let's go to the disco! More details coming soon.

The Heavens to Betsy Skirt

It's officially June, so that means summer in these parts, although given how much terrible weather we have had recently this news may come as a shock. For me, summer is a time for florals, polka dots and frivolous prints (you know how much I love a good novelty print). Anyway, when I caught sight of the lush parade of vivid flowers on this stretch denim (from my new favourite online fabric shop the magic internet fabric pixies intervened … and by the end of that week it was draped alluringly on my sewing table.

Originally, I was thinking of making some floral shorts with this fabric, but when I was asked by Abby of Blue Ginger Doll to try out her new skirt pattern I knew this had to be a Betsy skirt. The Betsy skirt is a lovely retro styled pencil skirt with three options, a simple version with button tab waist detail, a wrap skirt version and a high waisted version with concertina kick pleat at centre back. The skirt is cut to flatter a curvacious, hourglass figure, and is one of Abby's newest patterns, available from a US size 6 to a 24. I plumped for View A, the plainest of the options, as I thought the fabric was pretty busy on its own.

I cut a straight 22 on the pattern (based on my hip measurement) and it fits perfectly straight from the packet (Abby always advises sizing up with her patterns if your measurements fall between sizes as her patterns have reduced ease). It was a wonderfully quick sew and I fell head over heels for the double dart detail on both the front and the back of the skirt. These little darts are a breeze to sew and there-in lies the magic of the skirt – it will really fit you. I nearly forgot to mention that Betsy also features an invisible zipper closure, but please don't let that put you off. If you follow the instructions it's really easy and it looks so amazingly neat once you've done it that you'll never want to do an ordinary zipper again (I promise). Okay, so check out those double darts and kickpleat action!

Now, let's be clear. This is no ordinary pencil skirt, for girls I have to tell you, this skirt has wiggle! A whole lotta wiggle. In fact, I defy you to wear this and not sashay as you walk.

I don't often wear pencil skirts as I find it hard to get a good fit (because of the dramatic difference between my waist and hip measurements). But in this pattern that is all taken care of, and better yet the skirt then nips in further towards the hem to give you that full on Jessica Rabbit silhouette. For me, this is a skirt that begs to be worn with heels. It cups your curves, accentuating the good and seemingly smoothing over the less good bits of your body … and I like that.

It reminds me of something Joan in Mad Men would wear, which is where I got the inspiration for the little cardi draped over my shoulders, although I'm sure Joan would opt to wear hers with a plain short sleeved blouse and pearls. That girl has style. 

My recommendation for this pattern is almost any fabric you can think of, from wool in winter to a lovely bright cotton in summer, satin for a party and tweed for afternoon tea … a world of opportunity awaits.

As for my choice? Well, it is me, so I went a little crazy, you know what I'm like with mixing colours and patterns. Florals and polka dots and chevrons … I say bring it on! The key to making this "I don't give a damn what the rules are" look is to pick colours that are repeated in each element, and you can have two or three key colours that you mix and match. I focused on the hot pink for shoes, jewellery and cardigan/jacket and then picked up the blues for my bag. By sticking to the simple rule and using the same key colours in your print choice and with your accessories, you can really go to town on the prints that you use. Also, think about the scale of the print, so a large floral with a small polka dot will look more balanced than two large scale prints alone. Most of all, be brave! Clothes are so much more exciting when you start to wear what you really love. Trust your instincts.

I am not the only one to pick a floral for this skirt. You must head over to check out Tanya's wrap version in a covetable rose print. Just gorgeous! Hey, the Curvy Sewing Collective girls rule.

Talking of which, there are more CSC makes coming up in the blog tour of the Blue Ginger Doll new patterns, so do check all the lovely makes in the link below.

29th May: Tanya at Mrs Hughes (Betsy)
1st June: Liz at Sewn by Elizabeth (Betsy & Ava)
2nd June: Me (Betsy)
3rd June: Mary at Young Broke & Fabulous
4th June: Mary at Idle Fancy
5th June: Andrea at Four Square Walls
6th June: Tanya at Mrs Hughes (Ava)
7th June: Melissa at Scavenger Hunt
8th June: Me (Ava)

Lastly, it always makes me smile when my Dad tells me he has read my blog (bless him). Unlike my Mum, he has no interest in sewing, and I think he reads it just to catch up on my adventures. This morning though, he made this comment on his Facebook page,

"Just read T's blog. It's possible I may be a bit biased but she can write a great story. The sewing's not bad either. I can't believe this is the same person who cried when the school tried to take a picture of her age 5."

It made me laugh. He is referring to an incident in my first months at school. It was essential for every schoolchild to have their photo taken, so it could be printed out for purchase by parents and then framed and put on the sideboard of all the doting grannies and grandads. I have foggy memories of that day, but I do remember them putting me on the chair in the bright light and telling me to smile. I kicked off … big time. Seems I was not pleased with this turn of events and I had a total bawling fit until they gave up and left me alone. This is why the school photo my parents had of me that year was sitting at a desk with the hair over my face concentrating really hard on making a fish collage from eggshells, rather than the trad cheesy-mcsqueezy grin fests of my classmates. I have glue on my sleeve and red rimmed eyes, but I appear happy in my task. 

The thing is, the more I think back to that day the more amazing I feel about where I am now. I spent much of my life hating having my photo taking, lurking at the back of group photos trying to hide from the lens and avoid the limelight. Nowadays, I may still be equally as happy in spending time making an eggshell collage, but this blog has made it okay for me to stand in front of the camera. I am now fine with putting my plus size self out there for the world to see. I have been so inspired by other plus size bloggers over the last couple of years, and it was them who gave me the courage to stop hiding and start my own blog last autumn. Long standing followers will note that my first makes on the blog did not appear on me, but I quickly gained the confidence to change that and step in front of the lens.

So, to all the sewing bloggers out there, whatever your size, shape or hang ups, thank you. You have helped me learn that it's not just about the sewing, it's about learning to be happy with who you are and understanding that by sharing that you can help others overcome their own fears in turn. That kind of confidence is a gift and you wear it with you everywhere you go. It will change your life. It has changed mine.