5 indispensable sewing tools I had completely underestimated

Ladystitcher Top Tools

When I first thought about learning to sew and make my own clothes, my mother gave me a brilliant present: a new sewing box with lots of useful bits and bobs inside including machine and hand sewing needles, a variety of pins, a spongey pincushion, good fabric scissors, tailor’s chalk (the sort that comes in a hard little square) and a measuring tape. This kit was a great toolbox for a new sewer starting out and I didn’t really think about adding any other implements or accessories for quite some time.

More recently, through reading different sewing blogs and books, I’ve come across suggestions for other sewing tools which I had initially dismissed as not being of particular use to a beginner. There are so many sewing-related gadgets and tools out there that it’s really hard for beginners to figure out what’s worth picking up and what’s an unnecessary expense. I soon discovered that I had really underestimated the usefulness of five of these in particular, and thought I’d share them in case you might be in the same boat in terms of keeping sewing costs down and limiting your sewing gadgetry.

1. Wax for hand sewing

It is almost ridiculous just how useful this has been for me in preventing thread from tangling up while hand sewing waistbands and bindings, or even just quickly basting two pieces of fabric together. A very simple, but very effective, tool for your kit which should be stocked in your local sewing store.

2. A really good marking pen

I used to rely solely on the standard square tailor’s chalk that came in my sewing box gift, but I found it hard to make accurate markings with it because the edges became dull so quickly and yet the chalk wasn’t soft enough to make a nice clear mark.

My husband bought me a chalk pen set at Joanne’s (it’s the red pen above) for Christmas last year. The pen came with a set of over a dozen white and multicoloured replacement nibs as well as a sharpener for replenishing the point. The chalk is good enough quality to mark any of the fabrics I’ve used it on, from wovens through knits, but rubs off really easily and hasn’t left any stains. I can’t tell you how much time and frustration this one pen has saved me!

3. Tailor’s ham

I held off on sourcing one of these for ages, mistakenly believing they were really only useful when inserting sleeves. Nope – the tailor’s ham comes in handy for pressing all sorts of shapes and seams. Pressing seams properly makes such a huge difference to how ‘finished’ a garment looks – and once the item is made up, there’s no going back in there to smooth things out!

Ladystitcher Tools close

4. Bias binding makers

One sewing task I always put off tackling is making matching bias binding. It’s not that hard – just a bit dull! I bought these three Hemline bias binding makers which definitely make the task a lot easier. They’re really not essential for making binding – you can certainly make it just fine using a few pins, a measuring tape and a good iron – but they really speed up the process. The one I use most is the 1″ binding one, but the other two do come in useful.

5. A rotary cutter

I have a really good pair of fabric scissors and so for a long time I thought they would see me through just fine. However, I had a lot of difficulty in trying to cut lighter fabrics with any kind of accuracy using the scissors: the fabric kept slipping and shifting around when lifted for the scissors. I sourced my rotary cutter on eBay and bought a self-healing cutting mat at a local art supply store and have found them particularly useful for cutting knits (so quick and no stretching out of shape!) and very lightweight fabric. And the rotary cutter is especially useful when cutting fabric strips for binding!

So what simple, but brilliantly useful, inexpensive sewing tools do you turn to time and again? What else have I been missing out on all this time??

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Moneta II: (Re)covering a botched hem

Taken at the Botanical Gardens, just before we left Dublin

Taken at the Botanical Gardens, just before we left Dublin

I had all kinds of trouble attaching clear elastic to the waistline of my first Moneta. I got some great tips in response to my plea for assistance on tackling clear elastic and recently decided that enough time had elapsed for me to give it another go. I bought this bamboo jersey at Hickey’s in Dublin when I spotted it on sale several weeks ago, and managed to finish up the Moneta before we left for Shanghai. The jersey is quite thin and has a strong tendency to roll up at the edges – which contributed to things going a bit crazy at the hemline…

Moneta 2 bk Ladystitcher

I used a twin needle around the sleeve cuffs and neckline before working on the hem, so luckily those were already finished before disaster struck: the needles kept chewing up the hem and sucking it into the needle plate. I think this was down to a combination of bad fabric management on my part and having the tension a touch off (though it had seemed ok on the neckline!). Then, when I was trying to straighten things out, I hit a pin and shattered the twin needle. Whoops…

So, I managed to make a complete mess of the hem – it was really puckered and the back of the stitching was all kinds of odd. I didn’t want to cut the fabric and lose the length though, so instead I scouted out some lovely stretch lace from a haberdashery in the Powerscourt Centre, A Rubanesque. She didn’t have enough of the lace I’d picked out left in stock, so instead she suggested cutting this really wide one in half, which worked perfectly for making a nice wide band of lace.

Cutting Lace Ladystitcher

I hand stitched the lace on to make sure I moulded it around the skirt without puckering and so that it covered the hem evenly along the bottom. Here’s a closer photo of the lace being stitched on – and the ‘right’ side of the hem pre-lace:

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Ooof…

It feels like cheating a bit to basically put a band aid over what is a truly disastrous hem, but I quite like how it turned out! I’m not sure how I could have rescued it otherwise, without cutting up the skirt and re-doing the hem with a new twin needle. As it is, I really like this dress and have already worn it several times. The bamboo jersey is a lovely bright blue and is really, really soft, and the lace adds something a little delicate to what would have been a very simple dress.

Have you ever done an emergency patch-up or patch-over on a sewing project? How did it turn out?

The McGyver shirt dress: Simplicity Lisette Traveler

Traveler Front

One of my favourite Instagram accounts is that of the American designer behind ‘Poppy von Frohlich‘, who makes beautiful woolen womenswear, ranging from flannel shirts to winter coats. Her pictures really inspired me to finally try my hand at plaid matching, and what better project to start on than a plaid shirt dress?

I’ve been looking out for the perfect shirt dress pattern for some time now – a  design that could be made up into a cosy flannel dress for cooler weather or with more luxurious fabric for a smarter version (like this lovely velvet YSL dress).

Judging from the line drawings on the Simplicity (2246) Lisette Traveler pattern, it looked like it would fit the bill perfectly. It also helps that the pattern has gotten great reviews across a wide range of sewing blogs so there’s a wonderful selection of sewn-up versions to preview online.

Traveler Back Lady Stitcher

Sorry for the wrinkled back view! The only sunny window for taking photos was a few hours after I had put the dress on!

I sourced the brushed cotton from a UK seller on eBay and used it to make the Traveler dress in Version A. This version is supposed to have two lower pockets as well, but I left them off and cut the upper pockets and the plackets on the bias to shake up the plaid pattern. Matching that plaid takes a lot of effort! Hats off to all those people who’ve made several plaid Archers! Despite all my efforts, I didn’t quite match it across the side seams, but I’m happy with how well the front panels, plackets and pockets worked out. I made matching buttons out of one of those ‘self-cover’ button sets.

I have quite narrow shoulders and I think this falls just a little too wide for my shape. It would certainly fit better if I buttoned it right up to the top, but I’m not really comfortable wearing this style like that so I’ll just get on with it being the way it is! I’ll definitely measure the shoulders on the pattern pieces before trying version C, which is the next one I’d like to make from this pattern.

So, the McGyver connection. Well, when I was a child, that show was basically our ‘family viewing’ time. I hadn’t seen it since I was really young and didn’t really remember much about, so when I came across the first episode of it by accident recently, I had to check it out! It turns out that while I didn’t retain any of the storylines or general information about the McGyver character, his wardrobe has had an unconscious influence on me after all these years:

His Shirt

Nice plaid matching, McG.

 

Me-Made-May’14: Second and final round-up

Lady Stitcher MMM

Day 16: Colette Truffle | Day 17: Sew For Victory blouse, blue remnant skirt (unblogged) | Day 18: Coco top (unblogged), RTW skirt | Day 19: Colette Moneta | Day 20: Coco top, Beignet skirt

(The first half of my MMM’14 round-up is online here)

Well, the month-long project that was Me-Made-May has come to an end! I enjoyed it much more than I had expected, and made some interesting realisations about my sewing which will really direct how and what I work on over the next few months.

The first, and probably most important, thing I’ve realised is how much I really enjoy the clothes I’ve made. In one way, this encourages me to keep sewing, but in another, it makes me feel I should slow my pace a little and take more time over the process.

I didn’t start sewing because I wanted a major wardrobe expansion. While I really want to sew and to learn more techniques, I still don’t want to amass loads of ‘stuff’. So, to balance things out, I’ll be phasing out my RTW wardrobe (I’ve had most of it for several years and it’s really showing that wear) with things I’ve made.

Lady Stitcher MMM2

Day 21: Moneta, collar crocheted by my sister | Day 22: Vintage Pledge shirt dress, RTW jumper | Day 23: Simplicity 1913 (unblogged) and RTW shirt, sweater | Day 24: Simplicity Lisette Traveler flannel dress (unblogged) | Day 25: Coco top, Foxy Delphine skirt

Which brings me to the second point I realised over MMM: the range of garments I was able to draw on over the month. I actually hadn’t realised how much I’ve sewn over the past seven or eight months since I started this blog, but my sewing has been focused ona very limited range of garment types. I’m not a whizz with the machine – apart from Tilly’s Coco pattern I’m really not that quick at making things. What I really need to do is to consider the type of project I work on: when I started sewing, I had very few skirts and because they’re so simple to make and to fit, I’ve concentrated on making them above other types of clothing! As a result, I have a lot of skirts and very few tops!

I’m trying to rectify these issues by 1. focusing on finishing techniques (like embroidery) and 2. making more tops and dresses.

Lady Stitcher MMM Last Days

Day 26: Mabel skirt, seed stitch scarf, RTW vest, cardigan | Day 27: Grey Coco | Day 28: Moneta dress | Day 29: Hazel dress | Day 30: Truffle dress | Day 31: Foxy Delphine, RTW vest, cardigan

When I started MMM, I thought I’d soon make my first pair of trousers, but I still haven’t found the right material. The downside of buying fabric online is the risk involved – either you take a chance and order something based on the photo and description, or you order swatches. Sometimes, by the time the swatches have arrived, the fabric has sold out! So I’m still keeping an eye out for trouser fabric, but I don’t think I’ll be making them any time soon.

One thing I really won’t miss from this month is taking photos of myself! I spend a lot of time at home and our house has very poor natural lighting, plus we don’t have any mirrors you can actually see the whole of yourself in, so taking photos was the biggest challenge! I did, though, really enjoy seeing what MMM outfits everyone was posting to Instagram and I found some brilliant blogs through it.

What areas of sewing are you concentrating on for the moment? Did MMM help you re-focus your sewing or knitting?

Foxy Delphine: Love at First Stitch skirt

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The lil’ fox is incredibly difficult to photograph in my poor-lit house, but the gold thread is much more noticeable in real life.

While making my grey Colette Truffle dress recently, I began thinking about different ways to embellish garments to add a special, personal touch. I love that the Truffle has a simple style as it makes it really easy to accessorize for different situations – it’s a very handy go-to dress to have in the wardrobe – but I was also itching to add something more permanent to it to spice it up a bit.

Around that time, Ingrid of We The Sewing posted about embellishing clothing with embroidery. On reading her tips, I knew that this was exactly the technique I wanted to try out.

So when Tilly Walnes released a preview of the lovely projects included in her new book, Love at First Stitch, I immediately thought of making a simple grey Delphine and trying some hand embroidery. Happily, I still had some of the soft suiting fabric I’ve used on my Frankenskirt and Truffle dress, and I traced out the Delphine pattern as soon as I got my hands on the book.

Lady Stitcher Foxy Delphine Prep

I pinned a sketch of the fox to the skirt in different places to check the position I wanted before tracing it on to the fabric.

This is my first time embroidering anything on clothes and I followed Ingrid’s great tips for planning the project, from sourcing a simple line drawing via Pinterest (this fox), to tracing the pattern onto the fabric using a wheel and dressmaker’s tracing paper. Initially, I planned to stitch a bright blue or neon pink animal character onto the skirt, but when I was looking through the skein selections at the beautiful haberdasher A Rubanesque, I discovered some amazing metallic DMC threads and decided that gold (shade: E677) would be perfect for this project.

I used an embroidery hoop to keep the skirt fabric tight enough to stitch without puckering, but clamped it loose enough not to crush and mark the fabric. I divided the skein into two-strand threads for sewing because one strand was too light and I was worried that three would tangle. I should note that this metallic thread was more liable to split and fray during sewing so I found it easier to work with shorter lengths, and I just used backstitch.

Here’s a close-up of the finished fox. He’s imperfect, but I like him:

Fox Finished Lady Stitcher

I’m really happy with how this first foray into embroidery embellishment worked out. I like the simplicity of Delphine’s design and the subtle shine of the little golden fox against the soft grey fabric. There’s a stronger contrast between the yellow of the thread and the skirt fabric in real life than in these photos, and the fox sparkles a little when the light catches him.

I also managed to get the invisible zip in really smoothly using my regular zipper foot (yes, I’m done with that pop-on invisible zipper foot!). The Delphine is a lovely simple skirt to sew and, as with all the projects in her book, Tilly includes a range of simple but inspiring ideas for customising your skirt.

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I already have two excellent sewing books for learning new techniques, The Colette Sewing Handbook and The Complete Photo Guide to Garment Construction by Christine Haynes (I think Tilly’s book sits somewhere between the two) but I was really drawn to the patterns included in Love at First Stitch. I’m currently working on a Clemence skirt with fabric from my stash and hope to try my hand at the Mimi blouse soon too.

I won’t go into outlining the new book at length as there are already plenty of reviews out there from its blog tour (House of Pinheiro has compiled a particularly good overview), but I do think it’s brilliant value for five lovely and very wearable patterns, as well as being a handy sewing guide. There’s no harm in having more than one reference when you need sewing advice in a pinch – sometimes the different descriptions can help something click better.

A second sewing book I bought recently was a beautiful guide to cross stitch by Sophie Simpson called Storyland Cross Stitch – so I might be trying some cross stitch on clothing soon too!

Have you tried any new clothing embellishment techniques? How did they turn out?

Man versus elastic: Moneta by Colette Patterns

Moneta Ladystitcher Front

A few months ago, Colette Patterns announced plans to jointly release new knit patterns alongside a book dedicated to sewing knit fabrics. They also offered an opportunity to sign up via email and receive a free preview chapter of the book shortly prior to the launch date, so I quickly signed up and waited to see what the book would hold.

That one chapter convinced me that the book, The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits, would be an invaluable resource when learning to sew a wider range of knit and jersey fabrics. I feel I’ve gotten off to a good start by sewing a whole bunch of Coco tops and dresses (pattern by Tilly and the Buttons), but have really wanted to get stuck into sewing a broader variety of knit fabrics. I don’t have an overlocker or serger though, so have been really reluctant to give them a try.

After Colette released the new knit patterns, I quickly made up the Mabel skirt in some leftover ponte, but had to wait a bit longer before tackling the Moneta dress as it was impossible to find plastic elastic in Irish sewing stores (between dropping in and looking online, I checked over a dozen shops but just couldn’t find the right elastic!). I had held off from ordering from overseas as the postage was higher than the price of the elastic (!) but I finally ordered it from Minerva and it was delivered really quickly.

Moneta Ladystitcher Back

This fabric is a red baby rib knit from MyFabrics.co.uk which I spotted on sale while waiting for the Colette package to be released, and took a bit of a gamble on it (it looks like it’s sold out by now). I also used some of that remnant light jersey polka dot fabric from my night Coco for the side seam pockets.

I’m not sure whether the red fabric is slightly too light for this project or if my stitch settings were off, but I had a really tough time sewing the plastic elastic in to the waist to shirr the skirt before joining it to the bodice. I felt like I needed at least one more hand to pull the elastic and fabric through behind the needle while keeping the elastic – but not the fabric – stretched in front of the needle. I tried different stitch combinations but the elastic was frequently pulled in to a tight tube shape as I tried to attach it.

Eventually I sent a plea for viable alternative methods out over Twitter, so I have some different techniques to try the next time around! I did persevere with this technique though and managed to get the elastic in as per the pattern instructions, but it looks like a sewing machine vomited on the inside of the waistline.

Apart from the shirring, the rest of the dress came together really quickly and without a hiccup so I will certainly be making more Monetas! I just have a lot of shirring practice to get in before now and then… 🙂

The one thing I really did fall in love with while making Moneta was my new twin needle. I had debuted one already on Mabel, but I felt that maybe the needles were slightly too close together (2.5mm) for a smooth finish so I bought a second one (4mm ‘twin stretch’). This rib knit is prone to fraying but by turning up raw edges by 1cm and stitching at 3/8″ (sorry for mixing the measurements but that’s how I really worked instead of converting everything to the same unit!), the zigzag formed behind the twin stitching perfectly caught and sealed the edges.

The 4mm double needle definitely gives a nice smooth finish to hems and necklines – this neckline turned out much smoother than using a zigzag on my Cocos pre-double needle.

Moneta Dress

Whatever way I’m holding the skirt on the right here, it looks like the side seams are puckered but they’re actually alright in real life! 🙂

Skills learned: ‘working’ with plastic elastic ;), using twin needle to finish raw edges

Recommend pattern?: Shirring issues aside, this was a really quick project and I’ll definitely be scouting out some nice knits to make more. I’ll explore alternative methods for attaching the skirt, or might be able to source some wider plastic elastic online in the hopes that it will be less likely to ‘tube’ than the width called for in the pattern. I have a heap of this red knit left over so I might try some of the collared varieties of Moneta, but make it into a top instead.

Me-Made-May ’14: The halfway point

I, Sue (ladystitcher.wordpress.com), sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’14. I will endeavour to wear at least one item made by me each day for the duration of May 2014.

Here we are – it’s the middle of May and we’re already halfway through this year’s Me-Made-May project. I’ve really been enjoying taking part so far and have found it quite challenging to not just keep wearing my five favourite things over and over.

I’ve been sharing daily updates of my pledge progress on Instagram and have pulled those photos together for my first MMM round-up post.

First 5

Day 1: Moonrise Kingdom dress, seed stitch scarf | D2: Easter Mortmain and RTW jacket for a wedding | D3: Grey Coco | D4: Vintage Pledge shirt dress, RTW cardigan | D5: Colette Mabel skirt and Sorbetto top (plus charity race medal – it was a family day out!)

The most notable absences in my handmade wardrobe are tops, trousers and cardigans/sweaters. I don’t plan on chucking out my RTW wardrobe any time soon, so there’s no urgency in making cardigans but I would really like a wider variety of tops that aren’t T-shirts. I also really want to make trousers, too! I have two patterns to hand but haven’t found the right fabric yet.

Second 5

Day 6: Grey and gold Coco, seed scarf | D7: Remnant fabric skirt (not blogged), RTW shirt and vest | D8: Beignet skirt, Simplicity 1693 top, RTW top | D9: Grey Coco, basketweave scarf (not blogged) | D10: Grey and gold Coco, RTW sweater, seed scarf

Since the start of May, I’ve realised just how often I typically reach for jeans, a T-shirt and a sweater in the morning. Looking back over these photos, I’m really surprised to see that I only worse jeans once in the first half of the month. I’ve also realised just how much I was wearing my grey and colour-blocked Coco dresses pre-May; I’ve consciously been limiting their rotation for MMM’14 but have already worn each a couple of times.

My pledge focused on better incorporating my handmade clothing into what I was wearing rather than trying not to repeat any outfits. That said, I’ve been happily surprised at how many outfit combinations I’ve been able to put together from the garments I’ve made.

Third 5

Day 11: Coco #5 | D12: Gingham Japanaese pattern dress (not blogged), RTW cardigan | D13: Sleeveless Mathilde (not blogged), RTW jeans | D14: Sporty Coco, Beignet skirt | D15: Nettie top (not blogged), RTW skirt

The pace of my sewing has slowed down since the start of May. For the first ten days, I was visiting with family in different parts of Ireland and since I’ve come home, I’ve been focusing on finishing my Owls sweater. I fell a bit behind Kat and Sabrina’s knitalong during the sewing frenzy for Sew Dolly Clackett and Sew For Victory and I had a bit of a nightmare with the magic loop method. I’m getting back on track now that I’ve sourced the right sized double pointed needles and am aiming to finish the sweater before the end of MMM.

Of course, having some me-made trousers to put with it would be nice too… 🙂