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.

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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

 

 

Exploring Floral Print Design

When I embarked on my journey designing repeat patterns with fabric in mind, instinctively I started drawing flowers.  It’s hardly surprising as blooms have dominated British Print Design historically since William Morris and have been turned into signature styles by household names of Laura Ashley and Cath Kidston.

 

  1. St James’s wallpaper, designed by William Morris, manufactured by Jeffrey & Co., 1881, England. Achieved in the V&A.
  2. Laura Ashley Hermione Charcoal Floral Curtain Fabric 
  3. Cath Kidston Devonshire Rose

 

My venture into print design coincided with the arrival of  Elle Flowers on the doormat, an exclusive collaboration between Funny how flowers do thatELLE decoration and Elle resulting in a 76 page print publication celebrating every part of the stem just in time for Spring.

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I was immediately inspired and set to work devouring the magazine from cover to cover, pulling out images and colours that jumped out at me. I was drawn to single line illustrations, vibrant yellows and delicate foliage, as well as particular flowers’ stories of origin and the cultural significance of plants like how Jasmine is used in Indian weddings.

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In contrast to the dainty white florets, I was drawn to the vibrant and geometric shape of the Tropical Birds of Paradise. The flower has a distinctive beak like stem and a contrasting palette of vivid colours, including orange, magenta and purple, which makes for a pretty eye catching colour combination.

Birds of Paradise

I made my first attempt at repeat patterns by using an analogue approach I’d picked up from a SkillShare class by Julia Rothman.  I was pretty happy with the end result, the single line drawings are a reflection of my illustration style and the scale of the print is unapologetic and refreshingly modern in comparison to smaller ditsy vintage prints. I imagined it would work on interiors textiles and even as a bold wallpaper.

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After using a photocopier to make this makeshift wallpaper and leaving it for a few days to settle into our box fresh white flat, my heart dropped.

I just didn’t like it and florals didn’t feel very true to my style.

I consciously avoid floral prints in our living space, to keep the gender balance even though I generally make all the design choices because ‘It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just you’re just so much better at that stuff than me’.  In fact, when we moved and I had exhausted all the options of off-the-shelf textiles, (that weren’t covered in flowers or out of our budget) I pledged to take up sewing just to find blinds and cushions that were suited to our style. When I started teaching myself how to sew from Tilly and the Buttons and started searching for dress making fabrics I found so many floral prints.

There are a gluttony of gorgeous floral designs available, which led me down a rabbit hole of online fabric shops and caused me to discover American Riffle Paper Co. 

  1. Riffle Paper Co. Lively Floral 
  2. Riffle Paper Co, Herb Garden 
  3. Riffle Paper Co, Black Forest 

 

But somehow florals didn’t feel very true to my style, or light a fire in my belly with excitement.  So although it was fitting to start my print design journey looking at florals due to the historical context, and I’ll never say never… but for now I just wanted to look elsewhere for my inspiration and started looking in my wardrobe and on the high street.

All for now.

Claire & Co.

XO

Reclaim Creativity

After spending years writing ‘deck’s’ commonly known as Powerpoints to the average man and working in ad-land I decided to go back to my roots of arts and crafts.  It’s bringing me so much joy, so I decided to document this journey rather than keep it hidden away under my desk.

I started drawing from my sofa, that lead me to urban sketching, sketch-booking and braving life drawing classes for the first time in over 10 years. Then I started calligraphy and used a laser cutter, I upcycled some furniture, tried sewing and then I thought, hey maybe I can make the print for the fabric that I use to make dress whilst I’m at it.

Life is What You Make It

Creativity is contagious, and since i’ve started I keep racking up ideas for new projects and stumbling across processes I want to give a go. So here it goes… this is me reclaiming my creativity and I want to encourage you to do the same!

Now what are you waiting for?

Claire & co.

XO