sewing fast and slow

I’ve been a very tardy blogger but I have been sewing. I had 20 days off work over the Christmas holidays and although I wasn’t the  whirling-sewing-dervish that I thought I was going to be I did manage to sew and learn and fail and succeed. That brings me to sewing fast and slow. I borrowed the title and the general idea from the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics winner Daniel Kahneman.  The book’s central thesis revolves around two modes of thought. Fast, which is, yup, fast and also instinctive, frequent and emotional. And slow thinking which is more deliberate, planned, logical and effortful.

One of my rather limp new year’s resolutions was to be a slower sewer. To choose more ambitious projects and give them the time and attention they deserve. To not rush through hems and final touches.  Then I thought about Kahneman’s book. Well, to be honest, this is where the similarities between the book and my sewing thoughts end, but anyhoooo. I decided that I’m going to commit to slow sewing but also intersperse it with “quick and dirty” projects. Things like leggings and simple pencil skirts that I can start and finish in an evening. This way I’ll get the quick fix of fast sewing while still building my skills with the harder, slower projects.

First fast project? A princess seam pencil skirt, started and finished on one Sunday. The kids were here too and I still managed to finish it, hand-stitched hem and all!

In my quest to find my TNT pencil skirt pattern I turned to Burda’s princess seam skirt from 04/2012 (#118.) There are lots of pretty versions floating around the internet and the pattern call for ONE metre of fabric. How great is that? I really like By Hand London’s Charlotte skirt, but that pattern eats up at twice the fabric because of the waistband. I figured, if the princess seam pattern turns out to be good I can afford some of the beautiful designer fabrics I’ve been eyeing at Tygverket in Stockholm.

For this skirt I chose a nubby hot pink and black boucle from the mystery bin at Ohlsson’s on Sveavägen. I think it worked out to about 50 SEK or 8$. About as cheap as you can get in Stockholm. I added an exposed zipper that I picked up at a thrift store for 5 SEK.

The fabric sat in my stash drawer for a couple of weeks. I was unsure whether it looked a bit cheap, or if it would be too bulky for a slim skirt. But I went for it.

Side note: do you ever get overwhelmed by fabric and pattern choices? Sometimes I have so many choices that I end up overwhelmed and sew nothing at all. But I also get like this in the cereal aisle of the supermarket so maybe it’s just me.

I cut a size 38 of the pdf pattern, marked my seamlines with chalk and gave myself a wider seam allowance to account for the unravelly (my word) boucle. I could go down a size next time.

The verdict?

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I love it! (I need to steam out that fold on the front, but otherwise…)

It’s a lovely pattern. Super quick and easy. The instructions are typical of Burda…minimalist. The exposed zipper took me the longest of anything, and that was only because I’d never done one before. I used this tutorial from Threads magazine.

Is it my TNT skirt pattern? If I can get the fit just right, and it’s pretty close now, then yes!

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Not bad for my first go at an exposed zip.

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In the interest of quick and dirtyness, I didn’t line the skirt, but I cleans up the guts with my Bernina 700D serger.

So how about that slow sewing? Stay tuned as I dive into coat-sewing.

A winter Malvarosa in wool

Sometimes I become obsessed with a shape or a pattern or a fabric. The Malvarosa by Pauline Alice was this sort of dress. I kept seeing versions of it all over the internet and I went from being mildly interested in the dropped waist loveliness of it to being consumed, day and night with potential versions. Okay, so I’m exaggerating a wee bit. But I couldn’t wait until spring to make the beautiful and unique capped sleeve version.

Before I start a project I like to look for inspiration from fellow sewers and bloggers, from designer catwalks and ready-to-wear copies. For the Malvarosa dress I started with the pattern designer herself. I loved Pauline’s feminine versions of the dress. Although she has a girlier aesthetic than me, I love her chic-with-a-touch-of-retro look.

I also loved some of the more exaggerated shapes like this one worn by Victoria Beckham:

I love the hem on this one.

If Alexa Chung wears it, it’s a safe bet:

Sooooo, anyhoo… I picked up some windowpane check wool blend suiting from Ohlsson’s Tyger and decided to go for it. I chose to line the bodice instead of using facings. I figured the wool my not be pleasant against the skin and I like the look of a lined dress. My intentions were good. Execution? Err, not so much. I ended up with a tube of fabric when I tried to turn the bagged lining. Even Scott got in on the action, trying to figure out how to turn the bloody thing right side out. I ended up having to cut a centre back seam to make it work. I was following the online tutorials correctly, but I hadn’t noticed that the dresses in the demos all had a seam down the back. Another thing learned.

I did a lot of unpicking on this dress. So much that I was worried that the whole thing would just unravel and disintegrate. I must learn to read through all of the instructions before starting. Pauline’s instructions were clear and easy to follow. IF I HAD READ THEM in the first place.

It all worked out in the end and I love the dress. I decided that it deserved a special hem and having found a whole box full of vintage bias tape at the loppis (flea market,) I chose to try a red bias facing. I LOVE this finish. It was easy, although I had to serge the unravelling raw edge first. The bias tape forms itself perfectly to the curved edge of the hem and there is a flash of colour when the skirt moves.

I used the instructions in this pdf for the bias facing.

So here’s the bloody dress:

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This is what my winter Malvarosa cost:

Pattern $10 (I’ll use the pattern again for certain!)

Fabric  $25 (I still have almost a metre left over.)

Lining   $5

Bias tape  $1

Total: $41

Will I wear it? Yes! Money well spent.

My self-drafted midi skirt

 

I tried my hand at a self-drafted skirt, using a floral fabric with a lot of body. It was a cheapie so I wasn’t too worried about cutting into it without a pattern. It’s just three rectangles that I box-pleated. I overestimated how big the pieces needed to be and ended up with about a foot of extra fabric.

I can’tseem to get a perfect hem. There always seems to be a twist in the fabric. I’m thinking it might be a problem with the grain. I did use a very wide hem to get a nice hang on the skirt and did an invisible hem using my special presser foot.

Ok here it is. Excuse how wrinkley I am. I have no excuse to offer you.

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Unfortunately the twist in the hem is right in the front. Bahhh!

Despite its imperfections, I like the skirt. I love the pockets that disappear into the side seams and It has a nice shape because of the fabric. It feels both vintage and modern somehow.

I’m sure I’ll get better at drafting patterns because I’m starting a pattern construction course next week! The course, at Folkuniversitetet, is 7 weeks long on Tuesday evenings. I’ll learn how to make basic slopers and adjust them to create different designs and patterns. I’m really excited! Folkuniversitetet also offers a draping course that I’d love to take. Can you tell I’m a bit obsessed?

…coming up next…my TWO newly-sewn faux fur hats…as soon as I get off my ass and photograph them 🙂

 

 

Is sewing an expensive hobby? And…the best FREE online sewing patterns

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I was talking to my sister the other day and telling her that I can whip up a pair of leggings in an hour with my new serger. She asked me whether it was worth it since leggings are so cheap and readily available. That got me thinking. How much does cost factor into my love of sewing? Does it really matter whether I could buy ready-to-wear cheaper than my own makes? Is sewing an expensive hobby?

Short answer? Yes. And no.

When you first get into sewing there are a lot of things to buy. Starting, of course, with a sewing machine. These days you can buy a perfectly decent new machine for under $200 or you can troll around craigslist and garage sales and get lucky with a tank of a vintage machine for next to nothing. I think most people grow out of their cheapie new machines pretty quickly and if you want to finish the innards of garments professionally or sew knits, then you are inevitably going to start dreaming about a serger/overlocker.

In addition to a machine, most sewers are going to want a good pair of shears, rotary cutter and mat, a sewing/quilting ruler and other notions. You can spent a fortune on gadgets and goodies if you want. Btw, if you are prone to fits of uncontrolled notion buying DO NOt click on this link. The Wawak catalogue is pure insanity.

I think I spent about $500 on sewing goods in my first month or so of sewing.

As far as fabric goes, the sky is the limit. I’ve had my eye on some Prada boucle at Tygverket in Stockholm, but mostly I buy what’s on sale.

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Yup, that 24 quid ($40) a metre.

I usually roughly cost out a project before I start.

For example my green Anna dress worked out this way:

pattern: $12 (although I’ve already used it once before)

fabric: $15

thread: $3

zipper: $5

for a total of: $35

(you can find inexpensive fabric in Sweden, but sewing notions like zippers and such are always pricey)

As far as I’m concerned the grand total is more than reasonable. Cheap as chips even. Now if I added my labour cost into the total it would be another story….

Buuuuuuut. I think the point of sewing is not to save money, or not just save money. Sewing is about creativity,it’s about taking control of your wardrobe and not being a hostage of the current offerings at the shops. Sewing is also a lot of fun, it’s good for the mind, and beats watching reality TV (except for The Great British Sewing Bee, Project Runway and Alla Severige Syr of course.) You can save money and you probably will, but you can also buy fabulous fabrics, like silk or cashmere, or employ couture techniques that you will never see inside the garments at H&M. As far as I’m concerned, sewing my own clothes is not about having more clothes or a less expensive wardrobe, but having better clothes that I’m more proud of wearing.

So yeah. Sewing can be an expensive hobby. But who cares.

Now onto the freebies.

Everybody loves a free pattern, right? Here are some of my faves:

The By Hand London Polly Top was one of my first makes and introduced me to BHL. There’s a great video tutorial on the website and you can see dozens of cool versions of Polly throughout the blogosphere.

Collette patterns, known for their teaching approach to pattern-making also has a great free top pattern, the Sorbetto. Like the BHL Polly, I’ve seen the Sorbetto made into a dress as well.

Collette also offers a free bloomers pattern, the Madeleine. The victorian style bloomers look sweet on the model, but I suspect they’d look like diapers on my generous arse.

Camelots fabrics has a cool cropped blazer pattern for free here. It has tuxedo style lapels and is sewn up with quilting cotton (I’m dubious about the fabric choice but it does look cute.)

So Zo graciously offers a gratis panty/knickers and cami pattern (go on, buy her a coffee to say thanks.)

Do you have any fave free sewing patterns?

 

A Green By Hand Anna Dress

Sometimes the fabric comes before the pattern. As soon as I saw this weird cotton lawn at Ohlsson’s I knew I wanted to make a long dress.

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From a distance it looks floral, vaguely asian, but close up it’s just plain bizarre. Skulls? check. Checkerboards? Check. Handprints and dinosaurs? Yup. Just the kind of fabric that screams long elegant dress.

I chose the long version of the By Hand London Anna dress. I probably should have lined it but it works without. It was also my first project using my serger. I’m slightly scared by the speed and potential violence of my Bernina 700D, but man is it ever cool.

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Behold my innards. And geeky library book about serging.

I love the way the dress turned out. Iona kindly took some photos at a T-Bana station.

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You know, maybe I’m completely deluded, but I feel that I look way cooler and sexier in real life than I do in my sewing blog photos. Trust me, k?

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The Anna dress sews up like a dream and the bodice is just sooo pretty. I’ll be making another long one next summer for sure. It feels like wearing pajamas while looking elegant at the same time. Perfect.

Sewing clothes for work…I got my first job in Sweden! Wardrobe planning Part 1.

Yup. I’m a contributing member of society. After a year in Stockholm I finally got a job as a substitute teacher at an English middle school. If you’re wondering what took so long…well, it is difficult to get a job in Sweden if you’re not fluent in Swedish but I was also not looking very hard, partly because I enjoyed being a happy homemaker, and partly because I got stressed out and depressed when I started job hunting. But that’s another story. What’s really urgent now is sewing some work clothes!

Over the last year I pretty much stopped buying clothes. I felt guilty spending money when I wasn’t working and tbh, I wasn’t doing much that required an extensive wardrobe. Also, like many new sewers, I was getting more and more turned off by fast, throwaway fashion and the sweatshops that produce it.

But now I need clothes! The way I used to deal with a new job and new work clothes was something like this: I ran around the mall like a deer caught in the headlights and came home with a bunch of clothes that didn’t fit very well, weren’t really my style, made me feel like a kid playing dress-up and were eventually consigned to the back of the closet never to be seen again.  Ever been to a university job fair where all of the students/jobseekers are decked out in their job interview clothes? Everyone looks uncomfortable, immature and vaguely robotic. That’s me when I hurriedly buy work clothes.

So this time I’m going to do it differently. I’m going to sew as much as I can. That way I’ll be able to use higher quality fabrics than I could afford if I bought from the shops. I can also get a perfect fit-something that I rarely found off-the-rack. And it’s going to be fun.

Now how to get started.

Inspiration is as good a place as any…

My job required me to dress professionally but I’m also need to be comfortable. My co-workers wear everything from jeans to shirts and ties. I need to be comfy but I also know that I feel better when I’m a little towards the dressy side.

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My go to outfit is a pair of comfortable wide leg trousers (or dressy jeans) and a fitted shirt. I always feel good in this outfit and it’s flattering on me. Now to find a good sewing pattern for wide leg trousers. Any suggestions?

I also love making a dressy piece look easier with something casual like a tee or denim. Something like this:

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I’m thinking a By Hand London Charlotte Skirt and a screen printed tee:

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The library at Kulturhuset in Stockholm has a screen printing workshop every Saturday: Lava Bibliotek and Verkstad.

I also have a soft spot for clothes that feel like pajamas.

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This one is Kate Moss for Topshop. I’m thinking a By Hand london Holly Jumpsuit as culottes in a silk jersey.

I really want to make the perfect midi skirt.

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Maybe I’ll have a go at drafting one myself since it’s pretty simple. Like this one:

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Aaaaaand, I just bought Drape Drape 1 and I’m learning by trail and error. More on that later!

 

 

 

 

 

Swedish Sewing Patterns (by way of Japanese sewing patterns of course)

And she begins with a digression…It was Japanese sewing patterns that drew me to sewing in the first place. I lived in Japan for five years and spent a lot of time in Japanese magazine stores. My Japanese was not that great but Japanese magazines are filled with drawings and cartoons and diagrams and great photos (and by great I mean slightly weird.) I didn’t sew or knit at the time but I loved to look through the craft magazines. The patterns, especially for bags, were so cool and inventive, and the meticulous instructions made me suspect that if I tried, I might just be able to make something. It would be another ten years until I actually tried, but the seeds were sown.

So here I am in Sweden, which in a lot of ways (clean minimalistic design, orderliness and attention to detail) is somewhat similar to Japan, so I thought I might explore Swedish sewing patterns. I started with the Jenny Hellström Ruas books, specifically Sy! Från Hood till Skjort-Klänning.

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It’s 109 pages (in Swedish of course,) and contains 18 patterns with variations of each. Jenny Hellström was known for her eponymous clothing line in the late 90’s and into the 2000s. Typical of the nordic style she designed clean, casual clothes with playful graphic details. The label’s logo was her father’s passport photo.

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The title of her first sewing pattern book translates to Sew! From Hoodie to Shirtdress. So let’s take a gander inside:

There are indeed hoodies:

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and shirtdresses:

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How cool is this shirt and tie?

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I love the collar.

Others patterns I’m not that hot about. Like this skirt.

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Maybe it’s just the fabric and colour choice, but I think it looks a bit homemade ( in the bad sense.)

A pretty cute pencil skirt and a versatile tee-shirt pattern (that I failed miserably at, but that was my fault mostly.)

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One of my favourite patterns is the Jasmine Coat. I’m a sucker for raincoats.

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There are some basic sewing instructions in the back with some (limited) illustrations.

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And the patterns are nested on two large sheets:

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My review:

Pros:

I really liked the look of this book and I think some of the patterns could prove to be wardrobe workhorses. The tee, the shirt and and shirtdress will all appeal to anyone who like a slightly androgenous style with a vintagey edge.

The Cons:

Yeah, it’s in Swedish. If you can’t read Swedish then you’d better be a seasoned sewer. There aren’t any cute little cartoony diagrams in this book to follow.  In fact the instructions are very rudimentary.  There’s a glossary in the back, but again, if you aren’t down with the Svenska, you might be shit outta luck.

I’m still gonna try to make the raincoat so I will update the blog with the final verdict!