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:

20141123_140921Doesn’t the forest behind our garden look pretty? It was a bit cold…20141123_140912

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.

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?


Teaching yourself to sew

You know on Project Runway when one of the contestants says “I’m self-taught” and wears it like some kind of badge of honour, sneering at the poor suckers who spent 50k on design school? Well I totally get it. Kind of.

Of course in the internet age no one really teaches themselves to sew. Unless you are locked in a room alone with your sewing machine and some fabric. You learn by reading blogs and tutorials, by using indie sewing patterns that guide you through the process of making a garment, but most satisfyingly (and this is why I can relate to the proud self-taughters,) you learn by experimenting, figuring stuff out, finding ways to do things that make sense to you and you learn by making mistakes.

So if a make has glaring mistakes (and mostly those mistakes are glaring only to the maker,) I’m not going to get all bent out of shape. I can learn from them and do it better next time.

Take a look at my BHL Georgia dress:

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Not bad. The seams are a bit squinty in the front and the bodice lining keeps popping out. That’s because I ironed said said lining on the hightest heat setting, burning holes in it and ruining my iron. Yay! Learning experience.  I also learned that stretch fabrics are nothing to be afraid of. This is a rather heavy stretch denim I picked out from the bargain bins at Ohlsson’s Tyger on Sveavägen. It was easy to sew with although I suspect I didn’t get the grain quite right. I didn’t even need to put in a zipper. I can wiggle into it from the bottom up.

Georgia looks more difficult than she is. The bodice was surprisingly simple, although I got the centre seam and the little peak slightly misaligned. (Next time, next time.) Probably the most difficult thing about making this dress was turning the straps right side out after stitching them. Heavy stretch denim is a nightmare to turn.

Best part? This dress is comfy. I wore Georgia for drinks with Scotty on my birthday.

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Ignore the lining.

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Pattern: By Hand London Georgia

Fabric:  Stretch denim from Ohlsson’s in Stockholm

Time to Sew: A leisurely afternoon and evening

Cost: 110 SEK ($16) plus pattern

Will I wear it? Yes!

Would I make the pattern again? Yes, I’d like to make the wide strap version in a patterned fabric.

How I rescued my By Hand London Anna Dress

I love the By Hand London Anna Dress. It’s not just because I hope some of the effortless London cool will rub off on me from the creators of this pattern, but look at all the incredible versions that have been popping up all over the sewing blogosphere (yes, I just wrote “effortless London cool” and “blogosphere” in the same sentence.) But anyway…here are some beautiful dresses:

Diary of a Chainstitcher’s simple long dark sexy version.

Closet Case Files Ikat Anna. I love this dress, I love Montreal. I was born in Montreal. I love Montreal.

Dolly Clackett’s African wax print.

I could go on…

soooo…I bought some grey linen from Ohlssons on Sveavägan in Stockholm. It was on sale and looked sort of “Out of Africa,” and I thought it was perfect for my Anna. I’ve never sewn with linen. I knew that it gets wrinkley but I didn’t think it would fray as much as it did. It was also tricky to cut out, partly due to my inexperience I guess. I ended up with some wonky, wavy pattern pieces which subsequently started to fall apart at the edges. But I persevered. I ended up with this:

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(Sorry for the low quality selfie.) I guess the dress was not a total miss. It resembles an Anna dress. It has a zipper that does up. But this photo was taken about a nanosecond after I ironed it and it already looks slept in. Plus, I’m vain. No matter how I stood, it… errr..highlighted the convex curve of my abdomen. I blame the fabric. Not beer. The fabric.

So the dress stayed in my closet and I was pretty sure I would never wear it. I chalked it up to a learning experience. 

Then I remembered Morgan from Crab and Bee’s shibori romper. I loved how her shibori turned out and I figured that the dye job would hide my many beginner’s mistakes. 

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I used Dylon machine dye in Marine Blue. (I was also shibori-ing an old duvet cover which I accordian folded and clamped between two old CD covers.) For the dress, I pinched the fabric and tied elastic bands tightly around the pinched bits (unfortunately I didn’t take a photo.)

I did not follow the directions on the Dylon box. I wanted a deeper indigo blue so I reduced the water by half. This meant I had to do a lot of stirring to make sure I didn’t have any unintended resists. It took about 40 minutes and I was thrilled with the results.

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Yup it still looks wrinkled, but in a cool way I think. The colour is just how I imagined it. And the shibori covers a multitude of sins. I’ve already worn the dress several times and it is comfy and cool and elegant in a boho kind of way.

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The clever pattern does wonders for the boobies too.

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I love the design that the elastic bands made. Reminds me of alien brains or electric spiders. You know. That sort of thing.

So it all turned out. I learned a lot and I ended up with a wearable garment. 

I made a cat pillow and I’m not ashamed

Meet Buddy:

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Buddy is my disabled cat.

Meet Tyg (fabric) Buddy:


Iona, my stepdaughter and I made Tyg Buddy. We photoshopped a pic of buddy and printed out a fabric transfer. Cut the shape of the transfer plus 4cm all around for the border and seam allowance. Sewed him up with some plain quilting fabric, stuffed him and voila!

Unfortunately Fur Buddy is a bit freaked out by Tyg Buddy.