Friday, 6 July 2018

Six reasons why my fabric stash is so big

It's official: I'm on a fabric-buying ban.

I want to say upfront that I know I'm extremely lucky to have been able to buy so many lovely pieces, and I realise this might all come across as #firstworldproblems, but like a lot of people I'm trying to get my consumption under control, and to be open about how I'm doing it.

Also, while I personally want a little less fabric in my life/house, I'm not judging those of you who enjoy having a lovely big stash/ fabric collection. If you want to reduce it, though, then you might find some hints in this post. I'm only just starting to get on top of things myself, but I think I'm making good progress so far.

State of the stash

I've been telling myself, and my boyfriend, that my stash is "modest" for some time now. It fits in two drawers plus one shelf, and I know that there are loads of people out there with more fabric than me. But, number one, the drawers are big, and number two, I just figured out that I have about 55m of woven fabric. For the record, 10.5m are made up of gifts and freebies, but 45m is still excessive given my output. Also, I have another 9.1m on the way, because Maud's Fabric Finds is having a closing down sale (terrible news!).

To be honest, I'm actually a bit surprised that I've let myself accumulate so much fabric. I'm really indecisive when I'm fabric shopping, and I already make a conscious effort to try to use what I have first. After doing a bit of soul searching, I've identified a few factors that have let things get to this point, and have compiled a list of...

Six reasons why my fabric stash is so big


Obviously, but specifically buying too much of each individual fabric. I generally have enough leftover to make a top after each project, because I get nervous, and...

I buy without having a project in mind

This is an obvious one, I guess, but if I knew what I was going to make at the time of buying, then I wouldn't have 2-3m of everything, "just in case" I want to make a long sleeved circle dress, or something equally extravagant/unlikely.

Buying fabric online

I've always been hesitant to buy fabric online unless I'm already familiar with the content, but I've made exceptions for (what looked like) bargain jerseys. A couple of these have turned out to be see-through, and a couple are just not as nice as they looked online, or have the wrong stretch. Even when I've been confident at the time of ordering, some things haven't met my exception - eg. the "Liberty" fabric that's a lot thinner than the rest. This has meant that some fabrics have turned out to be inappropriate for what I had in mind, which is why they've ended up in the stash.

I don't buy what I need

On a related note, I think I've been burnt buying knits online so many times that I've just stopped, even though I make a lot of knit projects (and I've compensated by stocking up with wovens).

It's too nice!

I mean, this is the best problem to have, right? Because I like to try out lots of new patterns, I don't want to make up toiles with super nice fabrics, and until recently I didn't really have a clue about how to make things fit my body. Now that I'm getting to grips with "my" alterations, though, I should be less afraid to cut into the good stuff.

I haven't been sewing enough

Thanks to becoming disheartened about fitting, my productivity has been quite low over the past year. That said, the Stash shrinking app tells me that I've used 14.6m of fabric since the end of May - so if I carry on at that rate I'll be off to Ally Pally in October!

How to shrink a stash?

The next thing to consider is obviously how to get things under control. I've been giving this some thought for a while, and I actually started using this Stash Shrinking spreadsheet a few months ago after hearing about it on Love to Sew (I think most of my blogs are going to involve some pearl of wisdom from the hosts or their guests). It's really easy to use and doesn't require an inventory - you add in fabric as you buy it and as you use it, and set a target along the lines of "for every meter I buy I need to sew two". The spreadsheet will tell you when you can buy fabric, and how much. I was doing pretty well with this until Maud's sale, but now I'm not allowed to buy any fabric until I've sewn up another 10m! My pro tip is to save the spreadsheet in Google Drive so that you can access it anywhere.

Anyway, the tool is great and has helped me to make a start, but counting it all up made me want to be more strict with myself.

So, *drum roll*, here are my 2 rules, based on the list above:

  • No woven fabrics until my stash is HALVED. To keep things simple I'm going to say that my stash is 65m, and I need to sew up 33m before I can buy more wovens. For me, that will work out at about 30 tops, or 15 dresses.
  • No jersey buying without swatches
The only exception that I'm going to make is for stretch-woven fabric. I want to make the Sasha trousers and only have 2m of stretch denim - once I toile them and know exactly how much I need, I might let myself buy a little more stretch denim, but only after ordering samples.

I'll set up some rules for buying wovens once I hit my 33m goal, but for now I'm not going to worry about it because, let's face it, this is going to keep me occupied for the foreseeable future.

This is going to be...

... Great! I was pretty anxious when I realised how much I have, but I feel a lot better now that have identified my triggers and made a plan. If you're feeling stressed by your stash then I'd highly recommend sitting down and getting to grips with what you have, and why you buy.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Stevie and Nicky tackle fit adjustments.

If you've found your way to my obscure little corner of the internet, then I'm positive you'll have seen Tilly drop the Seren and Stevie patterns last week. Beauts, right? I would love to be a Seren-wearer, but I just can't let myself make another dress until I start wearing the ones that I have.

As soon as I saw a picture of the back of Stevie, I knew the top version was going to be a queue-jumper - and sure enough, I've made two this weekend. Both fabrics were from my stash, the sailboats were a gift (but came from Sea Salt), and the chambray was a Fabric Land leftovers from and Anna dress I made some time last year.

I'm not sure I've blogged about it before, but I've been looking for a "boxy" top for probably about a year. I think it started when I saw this white linen lovely on Randomly Happy, and yep, that was posted just shy of a year ago!

It's not the most intimidating project in the world, but I made enough dodgy New Look 6217's last year to know that it's not as easy as it sounds, either. My biggest problem was that I just didn't have a good enough idea of fitting, or more specifically, I didn't know what the right adjustments were for my body - it's hard for me to be objective when I look in the mirror. Everything in the top realm was just a bit dodgy - gaping neckline and tightness around the bust, and I have a hunch that I have a sway back, too. I toyed with full bust adjustments and pinching out the gaping necklines, but they all created more problems than they solved, and I was really just at a bit of a loss about what was wrong. This is a big part of the reason why I just haven't sewn a lot over the past year or so, it just got pretty frustrating spending hours on things that didn't turn out right.

Finally, something clicked when I listened to the episode of Love to Sew with Melissa Watson. First off, Melissa mentioned that she fit the back of garments before the front. This made total sense to me, but it really wasn't advice I'd heard before. And then one of the hosts (I think Helen) mentioned a broad back adjustment, and there it was! Of COURSE I have a broad back. Every time I try on a jacket or shirt I end up sizing up because I can't reach my arms forward. I'd say I've read quite a lot of blogs since I started sewing about 18 months ago, but I don't think I'd ever heard of a broad back adjustment, until then. The closest I'd come across before was a broad shoulder adjustment, but I knew that was wrong because straps are usually too far apart on me and fall off

So, I started to play around with broad back adjustments, and while it definitely seemed like the right first step, it had by no means solved all my issues. When I saw Tilly's new pattern I decided to use it as a basis for some testing since I've always found her patterns fun, and really trust her measurements. So, I sized down from a 4 to 3, did my adjustment, and made it up in this lovely sailboat cotton.

First off, the pattern is a lot of fun to make. There's also a lovely Tilly-tip for turning the neck ties that blew my mind, and now I really can't figure out why I've been faffing around with safety pins for all this time. The only changes I made to the design were adding french seams and top-stitching the front neck band - aside from sitting better, on the chambray one I really felt like it needed just a little more detail at the top. 

The back shoulder area was fine after my adjustment, but I was left with a weird mass of fabric around what I'll call my "front bra strap" areas - this is hard to photograph, but there really is a lot even though the fit around the neck, top of my shoulders and full bust looked fine. I figured I needed to remove some of the excess that I'd created with my adjustment, so I googled narrow chest adjustment and made another version, which was definitely an improvement. 

Now the fit looks better (to me, anyway), but I do think a sway back adjustment would help things along. A slight niggle is that the back neck band seems to sit quite low on me compared to the models, but I'm not sure how to fix that without negating the work I've done already.

Still, I feel like I'm finally on the right track to making things that fit. I bought some linen viscose from Sew Over It a while back, so I'm toying with using that for my next Stevie, but I might try out the button back for that one.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

My first (homemade) bra

I first saw the Fenway pattern by Orange Lingerie around a year ago. I hadn't thought a great deal about bra-making, but I thought it was beautiful and I couldn't wait to get started. Unfortunately, I got serious decision paralysis looking at findings, so it took me ages to find casing, closures, underwire, sliders and the various types of elastic. When the beautiful silver sliders turned out to be about twice as big as I needed the project began to lose its shine, and it all just started to seem like more hassle than it was worth. Even with such a long gap between buying the pattern and sitting down to make my first bra, I still found I had the wrong parts (closures), parts I didn't like (foldover elastic) and things I'd somehow forgotten to buy altogether (strap elastic).

I finally decided to get back on board after becoming increasingly aware of fit issues with all my ready to wear bras. Basically every time I find a bra that fits in the front, it's too tight in the back, and if it fits in the back then the underwire ends up way under my arm. Obviously either option is pretty uncomfortable, and generally I either can't wait to take off a bra at the end of the day, or just don't feel properly supported in the front. 

Since the Love to Sew ladies mentioned a broad back adjustment a few months back, I've tried it out a few times and it really does seem to improve the fit of tops on me. As the fit of the tops improves, however, it becomes ever more clear that the layer underneath could really use some work.

Before I set to work on the fit, I figured I should toile a standard size, on the off chance that Norma's block is more Nicky-shaped than, well, every other brand.

I had a free weekend and ended up making two toiles, here's the first:

This one got to trying on stage, just, but the cups were super warped because I'd stretched out the fabric of the upper cup when I was attaching the fold over elastic. It threw the shape of the whole cup out of whack, so I went back to square one and staystitched that edge first.

I started again and staystitched that edge before I started sewing, which really helped. The only issue is that staying inside a 1/4 inch seam allowance on viscose was impossible (presumably this is why the instructions don't advise it), so I had to unpick the stitches later - this worked OK for a cheap toile, but I'll be trying stabiliser or a walking foot next time to avoid damaging the fabric.

Eventually, though, I ended up with something that looked rather a lot like an actual bra, which made me feel like a bit of a superhero - even if I did have to mash the fabric into the closure because I bought the wrong size.

This basically fits exactly as I would expect a 34C to fit me, and in fact it was pretty comfy so I wore it for the rest of the day once I'd finished.

In an attempt to address my usual fit issues, I'll be cutting out a 32D in the cups next time - my thinking is that the volume of these cups should be about the same, but the distribution should suit me better without me having to alter the pattern much.

Thumbs up
-  I love this pattern - check out the fenwaybra hashtag to see some beautiful versions. The versions with contrasting upper and lower cups are my favourite -  

-  The instructions were awesome. There were a couple of moments where I way scratching my head, but that's just because I'm new to bra-making - absolutely everything you need to know about constructing the bra is in the instructions, which are clear and easy to read.

Thumbs down
 -  I'm really not at all keen on the foldover elastic. I don't know whether I dislike foldover elastic in general, or just the quality of the stuff that I've found, but it reminds me of a plastic pan scourer in texture. I don't like the sheen and I think it looks really naff in areas where it's sandwiching more layers. I've ordered some decorative elastic, that doesn't fold, to try next time. If anyone's managed to find "nice" foldover elastic in the UK then I'd love to hear about it! I've only really seen one type, in various colours

 - That I didn't buy proper strap elastic - enough said.

- I'm not generally a fan of contrast stitching, and my bra certainly isn't a great advert for it! If I make a contrast version again I think I'll change my top thread to match.

Notes for next time
- 32D in the front
- Proper strap elastic
- Foam for lower cups 
- Walking foot should help over multiple layers
- Stabiliser/starch?
- Different elastic for upper cups and back band

All in all I'm pretty chuffed with this. I thought I would find the process frustrating, but there were only a couple of tricky parts construction-wise: elastic on the top bias edge; and keeping the foldover elastic neat when going over lots of layers, which I barely managed. 

The whole process was really satisfying, thanks to excellent drafting and instructions, and I'm excited about improving the fit on future versions. Hopefully it won't take me a year, this time.

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Friday, 28 July 2017

A (rare) bit of selfless sewing

About 4 years ago, when I first got my sewing machine, with the aim of making a few alterations here and there, and perhaps a cushion or two, I told my sister I'd make her some pyjamas for Christmas. After all, "how hard can it be?" I thought?

I strolled into my local sewing shop for possibly the first time, and bought some floral brushed cotton. When I got home I can't remember exactly what I did, but I believe I started by sewing the hems, patted myself on the back because they were neat, and then realised that no human leg would ever fit inside...

Four years and a little more experience later I figured I ought to be able to make a decent enough job with a pattern.

Enter Fifi! I've always thought this pattern looks beautiful, though I always sleep in baggy t-shirts, so I didn't seriously consider buying it. For the first time, I ordered a printed Tilly pattern, and it was lovely to work with printed instructions, good quality paper, and more importantly, no pritt-stick!

I found this gorgeous cotton lawn in faithful old so'n'sews. I forgot to take a picture so this one is from Minerva, who also stock it online. They claim it's a Liberty print, but it was £12/m in my local shop, and there was no mention of the brand on it - maybe Liberty just sold the design? It's a really beautiful, silky cotton and the colours and print are dreamy, Liberty or not.

Photo from Minerva
The way the bodice comes together is ridiculously satisfying, particularly the little cups which are shaped with little pleats, and join the rest of the bodice with french seams. I had a little practice at making the shorts on some cheap cotton from Fabric Land, as I thought stretching out the elastic might be a bit tricky, but it's all good fun with Tilly's tips (as ever!).

I initially wanted to finish the hems with a lacy trim, but in the end the only colour I could find that looked right was some grey bias binding which matches some of the smaller flowers perfectly, so I settled for having a peek of that instead. Looking at them now this was a good choice - I think the clean lines of the binding look really neat, and lace would have been overkill with such a busy print.

In the pattern there are instructions on how to make your own bias binding - you only need this for the straps but that extra peek on mine is where I used it to finish the hem.

I posted these off just over a week ago, and they have luckily turned out to be a good fit! I've already made myself 3 pairs of the bottoms, including my practice pair, because they're such a quick make, and use so little fabric. The finishing on these is better than anything else I've made, so I was a little sorry to see them go! 

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Too nice to wear?

When I ordered this lovely rayon from eBay I wasn't sure what dress I'd make. When it arrived it was so much lovelier than I'd expected that I couldn't wait to get started, I don't think it was in the house for more than an hour before I started, and the dress was finished by the end of the day!.

I'm a sucker for the little sleeves on the Anna dress but not so keen on the panelled skirt. In the end I taped the front pattern pieces together then did the same with the back pieces, overlapping the seams. I cut the front on the fold and 2 back pieces, and just freehanded the curves around the slightly jagged edges. I also lengthened the sleeves by 3cm.

The hem came up 7cm from the edge, which I need to remember next time I'm cutting out this dress.

Overall I'm pretty happy with this, but the boob pleats that I like so much about the Anna pattern aren't the right match for the stripy fabric, so I'd replace or redraft the bodice to have darts at the side instead if I were to do it all again. I'm also now fully fed up with facings, so I'm going to figure out how to line a bodice next time I make a dress.

Despite this being both comfortable and a good fit, I have yet to wear it, which is really frustrating. I tend to dress fairly casually and while I'm not afraid to wear big prints and bright colours, I guess I feel like there'd be some raised eyebrows at work if I turned up in something so... nice? Maybe it's just not my style, but there's something that just doesn't feel totally right about it, and so she has yet to make it out the door. Live and learn, I suppose!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Returning to Bettine

I've written before about my Bettine disappointment; I love pretty much every version I've ever seen apart from my own attempts. When I mentioned this to one of the lovely ladies at Tilly's stand in March, she asked if I'd perhaps made it in too large a size. I didn't think I had, but it stuck in my mind and I wondered if perhaps there was still a way that Bettine and I could be friends.

When we booked a last-minute trip to Tenerife in April I decided that it was now or never. I'd had this cotton lawn in my stash for months and decided that it was time to make a smaller version. This time I made a Tilly size 2 - the last having been a 4 because I decided I wanted it to be REALLY comfy, and really comfy means 2 sizes up, right?


Still need to buy a belt!!!

Needless to say, it's a lot better than my previous attempts. I actually like the fabric, it doesn't look like hospital scrubs, and it's about the right size. I'm obsessed with the pockets, though I'm still not overly keen on the neckline, particularly with this fabric which is way too busy for a necklace. I think I'll be making a chambray version in the near future, but any patterned versions will probably have a boat neck.

I'm going to replace the neck binding with a facing as some point, as it doesn't quite sit flat. Although loads of people seem to dislike the tulip shape of the skirt, I think it's pretty cute. That said, I do have the legs of a rugby player, so I will probably widen it around the hem next time, as I feel like it should be the ultimate comfy dress, and it's a little restrictive when I'm walking at the moment.

Anyway, I'm pleased to finally have a Bettine I can wear! I think this one will be good for barbecues once the sun comes back out.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Molly, Molly, Molly...

We've probably established by now that I'm kind of averse to buying any more patterns. I quite like hacking things I already have, and although I've only been sewing for a few months I've already lost patience with the whole PDF process, especially now that I'm back in work and sewing time is at a premium.

I had to make an exception, though, when I bought the Crafternoon edition of Mollie Makes and discovered that they'd included a free PDF of the Sew Over It Molly top. This is again quite a popular pattern that I'd resisted buying mainly because it's only available as part of a £20 ebook (My City Break), and I wasn't hugely keen on any of the other patterns. As I now had a free copy, it'd just be rude not to make one, right?

I've noted from a few people's Mollies that I only really like the top in stripes. I already have Tilly's Coco and Agnes patterns, which seem to be a better fit, however the way the stripes join around the shoulders is COOL. I decided to buy SOI's peaches and cream fabric to make the Molly. I also decided I could make it out of 1m...

Alas, sometimes my laziness and penny-pinching come back to bite me. First off the sleeves are too short (and I already have pretty short arms), because in spite of my wasted youth as a Tetris addict, there really wasn't any way that I was going to get this out of a metre. Secondly, I obviously didn't pre-wash the fabric, so while the sleeves were the only thing not-quite-right when I first wore this, it's now just too small. I've got away without pre-washing so many times now that I'd gotten really complacent, but I've really paid for it this time :( Looking at the photos it doesn't actually look that bad, so it might just be that I'm used to sleeves being really long on me. I did try stretching it out after its last wash, so maybe that helped a little - it's still not ideal, though.

I was actually a bit disappointed with the fabric when it first arrived, as I'd just been expecting something a bit softer, and it had a strange sort of sheen to it. The colour's not what I expected either, and changes a lot depending on the light - my partner actually referred to it as yellow at one point. It actually turned out to be really comfortable to wear, but then it really did shrink a lot in the wash. I know that's my fault, but I think my expectations of SOI might have been a bit high just because they come so highly recommended.

I'll make this again, just as soon as I find some striped fabric that I'm head-over-heels with. Aside from ordering more fabric and pre-washing it, I'll also top-stitch the shoulder and armhole-sleeve seams before I sew the side seams, as they're really conspicuous, and having them flop around under there really annoyed me on the couple of occasions that I did wear it.

I do really like the pattern, and it was quite a speedy make, so in spite of this make being a bit of a disaster, the Molly top probably be my go-to stripy top pattern in the future.