Top 5 of 2018: Highlights and reflections

top 5 of 2018 logo

On with the Sewing Top Fives of 2018. I’m combining Highlights and Reflections because I don’t have a tidy list of five of each and anyway I think they’re related.

I’ve been actively trying to change the way I plan projects and purchase fabric and patterns over the last year and a bit. I have much less sewing time than I used to, so I wanted to get more successful projects out of it. My fabric and pattern stashes were also starting to expand beyond my storage space so I had to do something about that. This is what I did and how it worked out.

The first thing I did was to catalogue everything I already had. I use spreadsheets for fabric and notions, and Pinterest for patterns. Why both? Pinterest is great for cataloguing patterns but not as good for fabric. What I want in a pattern catalogue is primarily pictures of the envelope art. I can quickly and easily find photos of most of my patterns on the web and add them to my Pinterest pattern stash board with a couple of clicks. The picture is then automatically linked back to the original web page for when I want to look up yardage or recommended fabrics. At least it is until the original page goes away: I got caught out when Vogue took down all their Donna Karan patterns and all my links broke. I should start pinning the envelope back pictures as well as the fronts but I haven’t done that systematically yet.

The Pinterest method isn’t good for fabric and notions because most of my stash wasn’t bought online so there are no handy photographs available. Even for the pieces that did come from an online shop it’s very rare for the original shop page to stick around for long; it usually vanishes once the fabric sells out. You can upload your own photos to Pinterest of course but there was no way I was going to photograph my entire fabric stash. Using a spreadsheet instead also means I can sort and filter by things like fabric length and width.

I also made a Pinterest board for my current wardrobe. This was fairly easy because I’ve been blogging for so long that I had photos of practically every item of clothing I own on the blog. This has been surprisingly useful. It helps me identify wardrobe gaps but it also reminds me what I already have so that perfectly good garments don’t get forgotten about.

Finally I keep a Pinterest board for the sewing queue with one section per project idea. It contains inspiration images, possible patterns, and sometimes fabric photos from online fabric shops. I also look through the virtual stash to see if I have suitable patterns or fabric for the project and add them to the section.

Has it worked? I think it has. I have bought far fewer patterns this year and the fabric stash is steadily reducing in size. I’ve also had quite a successful year in terms of projects: most of what I made is in regular rotation. I can also do a lot of the planning stage of a project while commuting on the bus, which frees precious sewing time.

The system definitely isn’t perfect. I’d like to do something with the spreadsheets so that I can easily access them when on the move; unfortunately everything I’ve tried so far hasn’t been very satisfactory. I also don’t have my magazine patterns catalogued, although Burda Navigator is a huge help for browsing. I don’t know of anything similar for any of the others though.

And I have to mention one more highlight: a fabric shopping trip in Birmingham with Elaine of The Demented Fairy and Kim of The Material Lady. It was a lot of fun! And thanks to the new planning regime I’ve already used two of the three bits of fabric I bought and the third is on the ironing board waiting to be cut…

Jumpsuits

After making four knit dresses in a row I finally feel like tackling a woven project. I am also still in need of interesting clothes that I can cycle in. I’ve been gradually improving my cycle friendly wardrobe over the last year, but I find myself wearing my Burda jeans a minimum of once a week. And then I need tops to go with them. Putting on a dress involves so much less thought than finding separates that go together.

Clearly the answer has to be a jumpsuit. All the convenience of trousers with the simplicity of a dress. Surely that makes up for the aggravation of having to take it off when going to the toilet.

So I went looking for patterns. This is the one that first caught my eye, from Burda April 2014.

burda 107-04-2014 tech drawing

I like the fact that it’s fairly smart, but that notched collar looks complicated. I’ve never made one, and tackling it for the first time with only Burda instructions for help probably isn’t going to produce a polished result.

Then there’s this one from Ralph Pink.

Ralph Pink jumpsuit tech drawing

I’ve seen a great version of this from Kazz the Spazz (sadly no longer blogging). I really like the style (click on the link, Kazz looks amazing in hers) but I’ll admit that the fact it’s a PDF pattern puts me off. I don’t mind tracing at all but I hate assembling A4 sheets.

I’m also not convinced I could do a good enough job with the fly on this one. The instructions say something brief at the end along the lines of ‘attach buttons and work buttonholes in your fly to match’. I’m not sure it works to wait until the very end to make buttonholes in a fly; wouldn’t you want to do it before the whole thing was assembled? Kazz left her buttons off altogether but I’d be worried about the whole thing falling open if I did that! I think this might be a pattern to leave until I’ve got some more experience.

Burda have produced many jumpsuit patterns over the last few years.

burda-103-10-2010 tech drawing

This is Burda 103-10-2010. It looked considerably less boxy in the model photo where it was made up in grey silk and worn with a belt. I think I’d take off the breast pockets. Who needs pockets right over their boobs?

burda-119-05-2010 tech drawing

And this is 119-05-2010. I like the elasticated ankles. This was styled as a safari look in the magazine. I think this one needs the pocket flaps to make the style work, but I’m not keen on sewing fiddly details that are not functional. Yes, I’m very lazy.

And finally the one I’m actually planning to make, Burda 130-09-2011.

burda-130-09-2011 tech drawing

I like the casual drapiness of this style and the turnups at the wrists and ankles. There are no really fussy details. It’s not very fitted, which is probably a good thing as I’ve changed shape a bit and will be trying a new size in Burda in future. The plan is to make it up in a brown cupro fabric I have that looks like washed silk. Fingers crossed!

2012 inspirations and 2013 goals

I’m running a bit late with this, given that it’s now 12th night so we’re well into 2013. But here are the last two top fives!

Top 5 of 2012

It is really difficult to pick only five bloggers that inspired me in 2012. I get half my sewing inspiration from other people’s blogs. But here are five who particularly influenced me this year.

  • Allison‘s blog is one of the first I ever discovered. I love her style. This year I shamelessly copied her Burda 116-08-2011 dress, including the way she fastens the belt, and it’s my current favourite dress.
  • Kazz‘s style is a riot of colour and interesting shapes. She inspires me to be bolder!
  • Chanel No. 6 is always sharp, witty, and full of interesting observations. Her series on safari style has got me seriously considering trying it out.
  • Pretty Grievances posts hilarious critiques of designer fashion on Wednesdays and always makes me see things I wouldn’t have spotted on my own.
  • Petit Main Sauvage is the most amazingly talented seamstress. If I ever get round to drafting my own sloper it’ll be because of seeing the beautiful things she drafts for herself.

And finally goals for 2013. When it comes to sewing I am not a good planner. I have a huge but ever-changing sewing queue and I sew what I feel like at the moment I feel like it. But here’s what’s on my list at the moment. Any resemblance to what I actually produce this year is unlikely!

  • Make the sparkly Christopher Kane knock-off dress I was planning before Christmas.
  • Vogue 8825, a very 70s raglan-sleeved dress with amazing bell sleeves. I want to make it in electric blue chiffon. This is a huge gamble because the pattern is for knits!
  • Burda 138-11-2012, a vintage sheath dress with a lovely high collar and interesting front pleats. I have some dark green stretch fabric that ought to be perfect.
  • I want to make something from the Drape Drape books. Not quite sure what yet. I got the English edition of the first one for Christmas.
  • And finally one that isn’t a sewing project: get brave enough to take outfit photos somewhere more interesting. Right now most of the photos we take are in front of the brick wall of the garages on my street. It’s a nice backdrop (and amuses my neighbours) but some variety would be nice.

Having said all that, right now I’m hard at work on my sister’s birthday dress. I forgot how difficult it is to match checks so it might be a while!

How to look like a hot air balloon

I have Vogue 1238 on my project queue. This is a dress that could definitely go very wrong with a bad choice of fabric. The suggested fabrics are ‘moderate stretch knits only’. Vogue’s version is made in tasteful shades of beige, one shiny, one dull.

The chances of my being able to find that sort of fabric at a reasonable price (for reasonable read ‘extremely cheap because this highly experimental dress needs the best part of 4 yards so forget making it out of silk jersey’) are slim to non-existent. Besides I think beige might make me look even more corpse-like than normal. Although at least there’s no danger of being mistaken for a weather balloon.

Here are some colour combinations I might be able to find in stretch fabrics.



None of them looks quite right to me. I can’t help wondering if this would work with a really lightweight woven cut on the bias as the contrast fabric. Maybe something black with a bit of sheen combined with matt black jersey.

Of course what this is really about is avoiding sewing the Burda dress with pleather bits that’s sitting on my sewing table. I’ll run out of excuses soon.

Managing the project queue

Ever buy fabric or a pattern for a project and then never use it because something else came along and distracted you? I’m not so bad with fabric, but I do have a box full of patterns that haven’t been made up yet. And unless I keep getting the things out of the box I forget what I’ve got planned. The ones below are just the current top six or seven. I mean ten.

I’ve tried a few things to keep track of projects in the past. Notebooks are OK but I like to be able to easily add photos and not have to carry something heavy around with me. A lot of people like Evernote, which is a powerful general notetaking service, but I don’t get on with any of the clients or even the web version for some reason. Pattern Review‘s pattern stash feature is just that – a pattern list – so isn’t quite enough.

Nattie recently pointed out My Sewing Circle to me and I think this might be the answer. It seems to be a version of Ravelry for sewists. It lets you catalogue your fabric, pattern, and project lists. The pattern database is distinctly spotty (at least compared to Pattern Review‘s comprehensive list), and I’m never going to get round to cataloguing fabric that doesn’t already have a pattern waiting for it, but I really like the project category. You can add patterns and fabrics to projects, make notes, and upload photos. So I’ve added my current project list to it and am hoping it will help avoid distraction. At least until the next Vogue Patterns collection comes out.

How much is too much? Planning for shopping

My muslin of Burda 132-04-2011 is still sitting there, looking at me accusingly. And I’m still pretending I can’t see it. Ever have a pattern you just can’t seem to get started with?

I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with the pattern, I know I like this style and I love the fabric. I’m just too tired right now to work on anything new. So it’s obviously the right time to start planning for fabric shopping at the weekend. I always try to take a list with me when fabric shopping because otherwise I get completely overwhelmed by the choice and make really bad decisions. But of course I will make exceptions for fabric that I fall in love with.

What I do have trouble with is buying the right amount of yardage. I make a list of the patterns I want to make, and their approximate yardage requirements. Fabric in the UK is sold by the metre not by the yard, but as I always need to lengthen patterns I just look at the number of yards the pattern calls for and then buy that many metres. And then I add a bit more on, to be certain. Can you see where this is going? My stash is full of small pieces between half a metre and a metre in length that are left over from projects where I bought far too much fabric, and my mother is never short of fabric for her quilting. On the plus side, when I do mess something up I almost always find I have enough fabric to cut the problem pieces out again. This has saved a couple of projects in the past.

Do you always buy the exact yardage? Does it work out for you? I have a couple of patterns with huge yardage requirements to buy fabric for this time around, so I am going to make more of an effort to get the amount right – just buying the yards in metres would be silly when the pattern calls for four and half yards to start with.

Non-obvious in hindsight

After finishing the tartan dress I had quite a lot of the fabric left over. It’s a polyester/viscose tartan bought from Remnant Kings in Glasgow.

I was casting round for something to make out of it and eventually decided to do another version of my Vivienne Westwood Philosophy skirt knockoff. Tartan is a very Westwood fabric to start with, and this particular style looks really good in fabric with a woven stripe as it shows up the deliberately skewed grainline.

I always carefully file my patterns away in A4 envelopes when I’m done with them, so this should have just been a case of pulling out the right envelope and getting cutting. Unfortunately I ran into the problem that what seems obvious when you’re drafting a pattern is completely non-obvious when you come to use it again a few months later. Rather like computer code when you come back to it a while after writing, come to think of it.

So for your amusement and to remind myself, I have discovered it really helps to:

  • Write on the pattern whether it includes seam allowances or not. (A careful comparison of pattern with skirt indicates not!)
  • File all the pieces in the same envelope. No, really. And label them with what they are so that when you fail to put them in the right envelope you don’t have to examine every stray pattern piece in your collection to find the lining pattern.
  • Give some indication of which cryptic markings are important for construction and which were just part of the drafting. Again, I had to lay the pattern over the finished skirt to work it out.
  • Write on the pattern what notions you need. I know there’s a zip, but roughly how long did it need to be? (No, I didn’t mark the zip placement on the pattern either so I had to measure the skirt.)

Presumably with practice you get to know what you really do need to write down and what can safely be left to be deduced next time round. Come to think of it, there’s a whole chapter of That Which You Shall Write Down in Adele Margolis’ Make Your Own Dress Patterns. I may just go and read that again.

Glacially slow progress

Well I wish I had something to show on the tartan dress project, but I don’t. I got a bit too enthusiastic about trying to get the pattern to match perfectly and decided to rip out an imperfectly sewn dart by artificial light. Which led to a small but significant hole in the left bodice back and much muttering.

But all is not lost; I decided to throw that piece away and recut it, and this time I got a much better match on the tartan so it was worth all the aggravation. I think what made the difference was that I cut out the new piece on my ironing board rather than the dining room table. This was mainly due to laziness – I have to move lots of things round to get at the table and it didn’t seem worth it for one small piece. The ironing board was right there and better than the floor so I used it.

I think the ironing board is better because it’s a lot higher than the table, so I don’t have to bend over. This reduces wobbling. It also has a fabric cover which is a lot less slippery than the top of the table so fabric stays where you put it.

Now I want one of those collapsible cutting tables, although at this rate I won’t be cutting out another project until after Christmas!