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.


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 🙂



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.


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?


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.

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.


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:


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!

Meet Greenie, my vintage Elna Grasshopper

-Hello. My name is Catherine and I’m addicted to vintage sewing machines

-Hi Catherine

Another stockholm thrift store find. It’s like THEY find ME.

So I was just browsing. You know. Killing some time. No intention of buying anything. And then I see this:

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How intriguing. Vaguely military. No label or markings. But I just knew.

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Yup. A cute little green Elna 1. The first model Elna produced. Original case, accessory box, a couple of presser feet. 200 Kr ($33.) Sold. He wasn’t quite as heavy as my Bernina 730 Record, but I had some sore arms after hauling him back to Gubbängen.

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When I got home I excitedly unpacked Greenie. He came with the original manual in Swedish, and tucked in the manual was the original receipt, dated 1959. He cost 350 kr 55 years ago.

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The green-lidded accessory box:

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And the best part:

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The case the turns into a sewing table.

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Can you see what beautiful condition he’s in?

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A little bit of cleaning with a looped pipe-cleaner and some compressed air, and Greenie was sewing nicely. The Elna 1 is a straight stitch only machine and has limited capabilities, but I’m pretty happy. The knee pedal is really nice to use, although it takes a little getting used to.

And here’s a sneak peek at my lovely new green Anna Dress.

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I’ll model it when the rain stops.

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.

Supermarket Snobbery, a New Obsession with Sewing… and Vintage Bernina Love

This June I bought my first sewing machine. It was an impulse purchase at Lidl. For those of you who don’t live in Europe, Lidl is a German discount supermarket chain. In Sweden (and the UK) some people are embarrassed to shop at Lidl. It’s not very glamorous. Selection is very limited and the staff always seem to be incredibly stressed out, but Lidl is CHEAP!

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I was a bit of a supermarket snob when I first got to Sweden. The more expensive grocery stores, like Konsum are just so cute and friendly and what I imagined Sweden to be like: organised, super-clean, typically Scandinavian design on all the house brand labels. And yes…expensive. Scott tried to convince me to try Lidl. Keep in mind this was during the long dark Swedish winter. The conversation went something like this:

-But Lidl is really cheap.

-I’m not shopping there. It’s depressing.

-They have great sausages.

-That’s not helping your case.

-They have this ever-changing mystery aisle in the middle of the store with all sorts of crazy cheap things, like power tools or art supplies or women’s shapewear!


I had to admit, the mystery aisle intrigued me. Weirdly incongruous cheap things had greater pull than winter-induced snobbery.

A few weeks later I had a sewing machine. A Singer 2250 with a three year warranty for about $115 plus tax.


Not bad huh?

I sewed a couple of things on the Singer.  Mostly too embarrassing to show here. It’s pretty basic and a bit plasticky, but it did the trick…meaning it fueled a new obsession with sewing.

And it wasn’t long before I started dreaming of a sexier machine.  Little did I know that an older man was soon coming into my life. A sexy European…

I found him in Myrorna thrift store near Hötorget in Stockholm. He was sitting all forlorn and lonely in his original case. My heart started beating faster as soon as I spied him:


Yup. A 1965 Bernina 730 Record. Original foot pedal, accessory box with drawers and 7 presser feet. For 170 Swedish Kronor. Thats $28.

I dragged him out of the store as fast as I could. And I mean dragged. This mofo is heavy. A nice Swedish man helped me carry him to the station.

He smelled a bit like cigarette smoke when I got him home and out of the case, but man. He’s a beaut. A little oil and a new grounded plug and he was purring along like he’d just come off the assembly line.

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Check out that Swiss engineering. The red dots are the oiling points. those discs in the middle are the 21 built in decorative stitches.

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How cute is the swing-out accessory case?

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The removeable table extension is cool too. I’m in love.