Learning to Sew

There are few books that you read inside out and back to front, all in the space of six weeks, but as soon as I picked up Tilly and The Buttons, ‘Love at First Stitch’ I was hooked. At the beginning of 2018 I had pledged to myself to learn to sew clothes…but it wasn’t until I saw my friend Verity had made a Cleo that it gave me the confidence to give it a go. I had always had the misconception that sewing your own cloths lead you down one of  two paths; you either looked like an art teacher or you look like a 50’s pin up girl. As my style doesn’t even land anywhere on this scale I never thought it was for me. I was surprised and delighted when I was introduced to the Tilly and the Buttons sewing patterns, all of which look current, wearable with a slight nod to their vintage roots.

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The book, ‘Love At First Stitch’ takes you from sewing in straight lines, to lining a dress and even crafting a button down blouse.  As I was a total beginner, I started from page 1 and worked my way through each project. Each project builds on the skills you learnt as you go along, so even through some of the patterns were not my style, I committed to trying them out simply to pick up skills like French seams and perfecting pleats.

Love at First Stitch Front Cover

The fabric I used for all the projects, was either donated or reclaimed. Although all my makes are toiles,  I didn’t need to worry if I made a mistake on fabric I’d spent money on. Tilly does provide detailed instructions on what fabric to use for each project. Personally for me, I think learning to navigate fabric shops, knowing what materials to order, deciding on print design and sourcing of fabric can feel pretty overwhelming, so using fabric that I’d found or reclaimed left me able to concentrate on construction of the garments.

Honestly, these makes are probably my biggest textiles achievement to date. In Year 12 I joined an all-girls school with a brilliant textiles department and I studied textiles at AS Level. I was really excited, but I was miles behind my class mates who had all received outstanding tuition from Year 7. I was battling with with my bobbin trying to thread my machine, whilst other girls in my class were making fitted dresses. I somehow managed to pass the year with an A, with as little sewing as possible. I glued where possible, making my own felt and paper, but I decided not to carry on with the A Level and focused on Art. In hindsight it’s a shame because I probably would have loved to study Fashion and Textiles at University, but all decisions lead me to this opportunity to learn to sew with the help of YouTube, plenty of time on my hands and a newly acquired patience of a saint.

Brigette Scarf 

The first project is relatively straight forward, as you learn to sew in straight lines, learn the concept of ‘right sides together’ and finish off with top stitching. I actually already own a headscarf in the same style in a polka dot fabric, I wear it often to get my hair off my face and to prevent any damage using hair elastics. I’ll definetely be making more of these and this is a great project for any leftover fabric.

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Margot Pyjamas 

If you are a complete beginner like I was this, this project really takes your sewing to the next level as you learn to read a pattern, finish seams and construct a garment. You are eased in gently if you mess up and your hem is not totally straight, you’re safe, as they never leave the comfort of your own home. That being said, I have never felt so proud in my couture pyjamas!

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I added the pockets from the Clémence Skirt as all my ready to wear pyjamas have pockets, (reflecting on this I’m not entirely sure the purpose of these pockets) but I find myself with one hand in my pockets with a coffee in the other hand most mornings. I made the waist tie from a sheet, but there is option to tie them with a ribbon. I think the ribbon is actually prettier, but the purpose of all these makes was learn new skills. My pyjamas are made from the underside of an old duvet colour. As a lover of all things yellow, these are probably the happiest pyjamas I have owned and I was so proud to wear them.

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Delphine Skirt 

The Delphine introduces you to invisible zips and waist bands. At this point I didn’t know the reputation that the invisible zip carries in the sewing world. but I agree with Tilly if you start with invisible zips they don’t seem so intimidating and you can only get better at fitting them. Practise makes perfect after all.

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I generally only wear separates in winter with thick tights and knitted jumpers and have never owned or worn an a-line skirt, as a pear shaped person I always felt that would accentuate the wrong areas on me, but it turns out I found the shape flattering and plan to make this in a honey coloured suede and navy blue wool for winter. This sample is made from upholstery fabric, which is why the skirt is so structured.

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Megan Dress 

I loved this dress. If I worked in an office, I would probably make five in different colours and wear one every day of the week. It works well with bare legs and could easily transition to winter with black tights and a black cashmere cardigan. I’m planning to make it in a cotton linen blend geometric print.  I had a real ‘ah ha’ moment after making this, as I got so many compliments on how well it fitted me and I realised that makes such a difference. The dress is simple in design, but with a good fit the most simple dress turns into a talking point.

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Building on the skills from the Delphine, Megan requires an invisible zip, you will notice how much better your second attempt is. This pattern also helps you learn to fit sleeves. I made my version in upholstery fabric again with this large floral design. The fabric is beautiful, but I don’t feel such a bold floral print is my style anymore. I wrote a little about how I fell out of love with florals on my experimentation with print design. 

Megan Dress 3

Clémence Skirt 

This skirt helps you channel your inner French woman as it is constructed with French seams, which is a construction technique that makes your seams remain hidden. This skirt is probably the furthest away from what I wear on a day to day basis, but I wanted to learn to make gathers. I made it from an old duvet cover and yes the pattern is more Mary Poppins than Mademoiselle Channel.

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At first I never thought i’d make this again, as it is so far from my style. However, I think that if I made the waist band thinner and paired the gathered skirt with a matching camisole top it could be a very practical (it has pockets) occasion outfit and versatile separates.  I spotted a similar idea over on Lizzie B’s blog in a beautiful Swan print fabric here. 

Clemence Skirt

Mimi Blouse 

The Mimi blouse is introduced as the project that will take you beyond the status of a beginner. This by far was the most challenging project for me, and I found the collar tricky and my machine decided to eat my fabric when I attempted to make button holes for the first time. I picked up the fabric for £1 for the lot from the yard at Stitched Up. I didn’t come with a label, but it’s defiantly synthetic as it was very hot to wear and slippy to work with.

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The fabric stretched when I was adding the collar so there was a bit of creativity involved in attaching the collar and facing. I made the pleated sleeve, again picking up a new skill, and headed back to Hobby Craft where my machine came from for one of the Sunday Sewing Surgeries. During the session I got help with making button holes.

Mimi 04

As I knew I wasn’t going to wear the Mimi Blouse I didn’t spend the time to cover the buttons or add the pipping, but the detailed instructions takes you through all these steps.  I plan to make this again in a cotton lawn so it’s more breathable on a hot day and adjust the sleeves so they are a bit longer and finish further down my arm, rather than where they currently sit at the widest point of my arm, not so flattering. Not the most well made garment, but not bad considering only five weeks ago I was working out how to make a seam.

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Lilou Dress 

The final project is a lined dress with an option scalloped neckline, I opted for the pleated skirt, again to pick up a new skill. I was short on patterned fabric so I made the executive decision to make a plain bodice from calico and used the patterned fabric to make the skirt. I lined the bodice with an old bed sheet.

Lilou Dress

I actually forgot to add the bust darts and only realised when I tried it on at the end of the project, had I been planning to wear this dress I would have had to do a lot of unpicking, thankfully I just let it slide, but you can spot a bit of extra fabric across the bust under the arms where the darts would have added more shape.

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The end result is a little short, I have quite a long body and long legs so would need to add an extra two inches so it would fit better, at a guess Tilly is 5’5” and as i’m 5’7” it makes sense to add a little extra length in the bodice and on to the skirt. I got plenty of compliments on the design choice of two fabrics in one dress and I love the busy skirt, it does make it feel more dressed up, so I plan to make it in a teal coloured linen-cotton blend with a cotton popplin lining for next summer.

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I loved this book, I read the instructions a hundred times and would re-read them in bed to be sure I knew what I was doing on my next project. I rave about this to anyone and would urge anyone to start here, even if the styles aren’t exactly to your taste, these patterns are a great place to start as a jumping off point, I have already been conjuring up some hacks for my wardrobe.

Believe me, if I can do it, so can you. Now go start your love story with sewing with Love at First Stitch. 

Claire & co.

XO

 

 

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