Sunday, 19 April 2015

How Not To Do Dressmaking

I'm still working my way through old and long-forgotten projects, and today I decided to finish sewing a dress. About three years ago, I got a wave of enthusiasm for dressmaking. I went to Remnant Kings, chose a lovely cotton printed with Russian dolls, picked a pretty summer dress pattern, brought the whole thing home, cut it out - and then my sewing machine broke. The dress has been sitting in a box, in pieces, ever since. Every now and again I'll take it out, look at it, and then leave it for another day.

A couple of days ago I decided enough was enough, so I set aside a couple of hours and got to work on the actual sewing. When I cut out this dress, I was about a stone lighter than I am now, so I decided to sew all the pieces together with half the amount of seam allowance recommended, in the hope that the finished dress might actually fit me. I seamed up most of the bodice and the skirt, joined them together, then realised that I didn't have any interfacing for the top of the bodice. At that point, I gave up and went to bed.

Today, feeling refreshed and determined to finish the project, I did all the things that you're never supposed to do when dressmaking and then some. There was still no interfacing, but I substituted Wonderweb, which seemed to do the trick. Unfortunately, there was no black thread in my sewing box, so I used navy blue for my topstitching. It's not ideal, but from a distance I don't think anyone will ever notice. The pattern recommended turning the hem when the dress is on the intended wearer - not something that was going to be possible. I don't have a dress form to fit garments on, and I think my boyfriend might have panicked if I'd asked him to mark up the hem. So I just turned it, pressed it, and gaily machined along it with my lovely navy blue topstitch.

At this point, I had a look at the dress in progress, and had my first doubts about the fit. The whole thing seemed really large, but since I wanted to get finished, I ploughed on regardless. The next step was the bias binding on the armholes, one of my pet hates. Tacking the binding on, and then sewing it neatly into place, actually took longer than assembling the rest of the dress. Finally, it was time to put in the zip. I couldn't work out which of the many bits and pieces in my sewing machine toolbox was a zipper foot, so I did the best job possible, and then sewed the dodgy looking bits of seam by hand.

Finished! I put the dress on - and then realised that all my bad dressmaking had produced a garment that just didn't work. The bodice was baggy and gaped at the armholes, and I couldn't see a way of fixing it that didn't involve unpicking two hours worth of bias binding. Eventually, after a lot of pinning and swearing and frowning into the mirror, I came to a solution. When I sewed all the pieces together, I'd actually overestimated how much weight I'd put on, and made the whole bodice at least a size too big. I stuck the dress back under the machine, and resewed most of the seams with the correct seam allowance. Unfortunately that meant that the armhole binding needed to be inside the seam in places, and it took a lot longer than if I'd just done it properly in the first place, but I ended up with a wearable garment.

I'm reasonably pleased with the finished result, but it's never going to win any prizes, and I'd have failed miserably if this had been a Great British Sewing Bee challenge! At least that's almost all of my old sewing projects finished, which means I can dig out my GBSB pattern book and start some new things - and maybe do them properly this time.

Since I was having a super productive day, I also finished knitting a wee tank top to use up a bit of my yarn stash. It's orange, red and green, but the colours don't show up very well in this picture. Now for a bit of crochet and Netflix to finish the day!

Sunday, 12 April 2015


Procrastination is my biggest problem. I hate doing my housework, until the point when I have an essay to write, and then I spend an hour cleaning the bathroom. I'll decide to go to bed, and then spend the next hour on Facebook, following links and watching random videos. However, my worst habit is starting craft projects and then leaving them for years, because I can't find the impetus to finish off the last little bit. There's always something new and exciting to cast on or start sewing, and my old projects get sidelined.

Recently I decided to finish off a few of those old projects, so that I could start new things with a clear conscience. I've been knitting a pair of stranded socks on and off since November 2011, Faroe from an old episode of The Knitter magazine. I liked the pattern originally, and I really like the Rowan Scottish Tweed 4ply that I'm using, but they've become such a drag! The pattern is quite complicated, and these colours don't really contrast as well as the originals. I had three days of uninterrupted knitting earlier this year, and spent most of them finishing off the first sock. They're lovely and warm, which encouraged me to cast on and knit the cuff for the second one, but they're back in a bag in the wardrobe, waiting for me to pluck up the courage to finish them.

I also found the front of a crochet cushion, which I had made from some Rowan Revive in a variety of colours. Again, this was a project that I liked at the start but quickly grew to hate. The yarn is pretty scratchy and stiff, and I just couldn't see myself finishing it off. I took it out a few times and looked at it, then donated it to a local charity shop in case anyone else wanted to make something with it. 

However, not all my works-in-progress are failures! I made a shirt ages ago, but at the time my sewing machine was broken and I couldn't do the buttonholes. Everything got packed away in a bag, and I made a mental note to get the machine fixed and finish it off. Fast forward about three years, and I finally had a spare few hours when I had time to complete the sewing. After a bit of buttonhole practice, a lot of needle threading and some minor hiccups, I had a finished shirt that was actually wearable. It's from an amazing 1970s Simplicity pattern that I found in a charity shop, and is made out of a floral duvet cover - also a charity shop bargain. The sleeves are gathered into the tops of the armholes, and there's a big pointed collar. 

I love the styling on the original pattern envelope, I can see this shirt being worn with big corduroy bellbottoms, or denim flares. I'm so glad it's finally finished and in my wardrobe, and I can start on the next project - a summer dress that has been cut out and ready to sew since at least 2012!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Space Invaders!

Charity shops are fantastic places, little caves of other people's unwanted rubbish, which becomes someone else's treasure. I found a big stack of knitting and crochet magazines in a charity shop recently, and took them all home for the tiny sum of £3 - less than the cover price on each magazine! One of the magazines had a pattern for a cushion with Space Invaders on it, and within 24 hours I had a request to knit one for a child's room.

I used Drops Karisma DK from Wool Warehouse, ridiculously cheap at £2 a ball, and great for colourwork. I'm really pleased with the finished cushion, although I didn't enjoy sewing on all the poppers for the bottom opening, if I made one again I'd probably use a zip.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Gift Stitching

March and April are busy months for me, with lots of birthdays and occasions, two of which are my Mum's birthday and Mother's Day. I decided to spend my Saturday making her some presents. 

This oilcloth was a tablecloth which I bought in Tiger, a sort of IKEA-style shop which sells really cute homewares and toys. I wanted to make a large shopping bag, so I had a good look through my fabric stash and found some printed cotton which would work as a lining. I've been watching the Great British Sewing Bee recently, but my sewing method would not have lasted long on that show! I didn't iron my fabric before cutting, I didn't measure anything, and I shoved everything under the sewing machine and hoped for the best! 

I'm quite happy with the results though - a large shopper with sturdy handles, slightly messy top stitching round the bag opening, and a pretty lining. 

I also got out my considerable stash of felt, and made a little spring daffodil picture in a frame. A productive Saturday afternoon!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

All About The Gloves

I seem to have spent a lot of my time knitting gloves recently. I think it's because they are relatively quick projects to knit - even if the pattern is really complicated, the small scale stops the project feeling totally overwhelming. That said, Sanquhar gloves are probably the most difficult things I have ever knitted, and I just finished my second pair of them.

These gloves are the Duke design, and the pattern is a traditional one from the village of Sanquhar in Scotland. You can buy the patterns from the Women's Institute in Edinburgh, and if you get the chance it's definitely worth visiting Sanquhar itself to see the knitting on display in the museum.

I absolutely love the finished look of these gloves, but they are a pain to knit! I used 2mm needles and Jamieson and Smith 2ply lace yarn, which works up really nicely. The pattern itself is quite complicated to follow unless you know how the finished gloves are supposed to look, as each finger has an individual gusset and the lines between the patterns have to run up the correct side of the fingers. Once you get the hang of it, it's not so bad, but I did spend a lot of time shifting stitches around the needles trying to work out where my round should start and end. I modified the letter charts slightly, and decided to knit the recipient's name rather than the traditional initials.

If you want to find out more about Sanquhar knitting, Tom of Holland has a fantastic blog on the subject, which talks about the history and construction of the gloves - definitely worth a read. I also think that the patterns themselves are really adaptable. I made a child's pullover with the Duke pattern, and other designers have used the squares to create hats, scarves and cushions among other things.

Halfway through the Sanquhar knitting I felt like I needed a little break, so I made these fun fingerless mitts for my friend. He wanted something a bit different and superhero related, but I didn't have much luck finding a suitable pattern. These gloves jumped out at me because they were pretty fun, but not too "novelty" to wear to the office. The pattern is Fightin' Words by Annie Watts, and I used some of my new Drops Alpaca yarn. It's so soft and fuzzy, but the pattern was still quite defined. I found the charting really easy to follow, and I also liked the fact that the design can look so effective in lots of different colour combinations.

Now I've got these smaller items out of the way, I've started working through my countless unfinished projects. Currently, I have a cable cardigan, a vintage sweater, a crochet cushion, a knitted fair isle cushion, a pair of fair isle knee socks, a baby blanket and a tunic dress that all need to be finished. I'm trying to stop myself from casting on new things until all these projects are completed, but it's going to be a challenge!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Squishy Winter Gloves

A couple of weeks ago, I lost my cosy Swedish Fish Mittens on the bus. Not to worry, I thought, I'll just dig out my older pair of mittens and wear those instead. A couple of days later, I got off the bus and took the free paper instead of my mittens, which were still on the seat. Devastated! Those mittens took ages to knit, and they were the warmest things you could imagine. I knew it would take me days, perhaps even weeks, to create a replacement, and I just didn't have that much time on my hands. Besides, it was freezing, and I needed new gloves right now!

Then I remembered that I have a pattern book called "Hats, Scarves and Gloves" by Louisa Harding, which has a really easy DK glove pattern in it. I had a wee look in my new stash from Wool Warehouse - all Drops yarn, and such lovely stuff.

The mustard coloured Karisma jumped out at me as perfect glove yarn. It's woolly, warm, and has a great squishy feel to it. Both gloves took four hours to knit, tops. Not even exaggerating! It's a brilliant pattern (called Toasty Tweed, by the way), and apart from having to do seaming, I can't find fault with it. So now I have warm hands, and I may well dig into my stash and replace the fish mittens at my leisure, some time in the future!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Ripple Blanket

I've spent the past month working on a big blanket for my sofa. It's the Cottage Ripple by Lucy from Attic24, and I used the yarn pack and pattern from Wool Warehouse.

This blanket was a joy to make! I started out thinking that I wouldn't enjoy crocheting ripples. It seemed like a lot more work than a standard granny stripe blanket, and I thought I'd get bored quite quickly. I set myself a target of three stripes a day, and stuck to this plan for a couple of weeks. Then life got a bit busier, and I ended up finishing the whole thing in a burst of activity just after Christmas. It's huge! It easily covers a single bed, perfect size for sofa snuggling.