The Scientific Sewing Enjoyment Chart

I am back in my sewing room, and starting on a new project. Hooray! But I have to confess that while I love sewing, there are certain aspects that fill me with the opposite of joy.

I’m talking about cutting out.

I hate and despise doing this. Everything from ironing the fabric, to lining up grainlines (urgh) to drawing on dart lines (double urgh), makes me wonder why I do this stupid hobby in the first place.

Obviously there are other parts of sewing that I do like, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog. So I’ve made this handy chart as a guide to the different stages of sewing, and my enjoyment levels for each one:


Here’s the breakdown:

  • Planning – 100%: My favourite part. I can spend hours leafing through Burda magazines and draping bits of fabric over myself whilst squinting into the mirror.
  • Cutting out – 0%: As discussed, a low point.
  • First seam: – 70%: “Yeah! I’m actually sewing! This is great! It’s going to be perfect!”
  • Halfway through – 50%: Things have started to go wrong, enthusiasm for the project is waning.
  • Finishing off – 30%: “Oh man, I totally messed up the collar/zip/sleeves, and I still have to hem it/make belt loops/do 12 buttonholes?!” (this is often when project gets fatally stalled).
  • All done! – 80%: A moderate high. Start to plan the first time I’ll wear the new garment.
  • First wear – 70%: 10 minutes of smugness followed by 8 hours of noticing all the fitting mistakes.
  • First compliment – 110%: SUCCESSMakes it all worthwhile when you can bust out the classic  ‘Actually I made it myself’..

One thing I’ve noticed is that any creative effort goes through similar stages. Even writing an essay (or a blog post). The idea in your head always seems better than the finished result, and preparation always seems to be the most painful and difficult part.

Do you have similar likes and dislikes when it comes to sewing? Or are there people out there who totally love cutting out patterns?

Why I’m not sewing, and my new shoes

I haven’t been able to sew at all for the last two weeks. We’ve either been away attending weddings or at home entertaining houseguests, which is of course delightful, but makes it rather difficult to spend hours in my sewing room (or the spare room, as some people insist on calling it).

I keep reading people’s posts about ‘what’s on my sewing table’ and gnashing my teeth in envy. The only thing on my sewing table is dust and an old mug.

I’m also in that awkward autumn stage of ‘I have nothing to wear!’, and really want to sew myself an AW13 wardrobe. I have grand plans so hopefully I’ll be able to get started soon.

In the meantime though I just had to show you an amazing present I got in the post – a new tailors ham and pressing roll! These were handmade and posted to me by the lovely Emma of Clipped Curves, after she read my post about sewing accessories, and my moaning about not having a tailors ham and being too lazy to make my own.

tailors ham

How amazing is that? Check out the fabulous fabric. I know that sewing with these will cheer me up every time. Can’t wait to give them a try, I feel extremely lucky. Thanks Emma!

I also accidentally bought some new shoes from Clarks in anticipation of a rainy autumn. They’re these ones, called ‘Hotel Diva‘.

hotel diva

I love them. Clarks have some brilliant shoes this season. Sadly they have toned down the crazy shoe-naming for the latest collection. Possibly the person in charge of coming up with the names has been sacked, or just been given some Valium in their tea. Hotel Diva seems like a fairly reasonable name for a shiny shoe (although you might expect more of a Joan Collins-esque 80s stiletto).

They also have 20% off at the moment! Knock yourself out!

The only creative thing I have been doing is knitting this jumper:


Well not this exact one, that’s the pattern picture. It’s called Robin and you can find it here on Ravelry. As it’s 4-ply wool and I am the world’s slowest knitter so you probably won’t hear about it again until Xmas 2014. Good thing I don’t run a knitting blog.

Making our wedding rings in Brighton

One of my favourite things we did to prepare for our wedding was making our own rings.

I first heard about the idea from a friend who had done it on Hatton Garden, the jewellery district in London. As usual, I left it rather late to organise and I thought we’d have to give up the idea. But then I met the lovely Laila from Cross Street Workshops at an ‘alternative wedding fair’ on Brick Lane in April. She had a free slot just 3 weeks before our wedding so I booked it straight away.

Her studio is down in Brighton. It’s a lovely space just off the North Laine, which she shares with a mosaic-maker.

studio 1

studio 2

Here’s what the workbench looks like. Lots of mysterious tools.

I wasn’t sure how the process would work, but basically you decide on your metal, and Laila then orders it in advance, cut to the right length for your ring size.

We went for white gold bands with a rounded edge – they look like the picture below when they arrive. We paid for the exact cost of the metal (and apparently we chose a good moment to buy it, as the price of gold had just dipped slightly!) and then just the workshop fee on top.


The first thing we did was to put the bits of metal in a bath with a mild acid solution to clean off any grime. Then you use a mini blowtorch to heat them up so they’re easier to work with.


This bit is fun. The rocks are there to put the metal on as they can absorb the heat.

Next, you get your bits of metal and start rounding them around a long shaping tool called a mandrel. You use a hammer made of hide, which lets you bash away without leaving any marks.


After a lot of bashing away, they start to become ring-shaped. Mine is the smaller one on the left, but I was actually making Alex’s larger ring on the right (and he made mine).


Then you take them off the mandrel and give them a more gentle bashing on the worktop, to close up the gap you can see above. There’s a special technique to this which Laila taught us. It’s very absorbing.


They look like this once you’ve closed up the gap. They’re a little bit oval but you fix that later in the process.


The next bit is the most exciting – soldering!

Here’s my ring all wrapped up in metal wire (so it’s easy to move). You paint this sticky glue stuff around the join, then use tweezers to put tiny pieces of white gold metal solder along the gap. Apparently the solder costs more than the solid white gold, but you only use the tiniest bit. It’s the shiny silver square in the photo below.

ring with solder

Then you get to use the blowtorch again. Laila showed us how to ‘paint’ with the flame around the ring, then concentrate the heat on the gap. All of a sudden the solder runs into the gap and totally fills it up, bonding the metal.


After that, there’s more filing and shaping to do.



Alex wanted a classic shiny finish, so I got to use the polisher to make it super reflective.


I had a matt finish on my ring, which you just do by rubbing it with some wire wool!

Here’s the finished products:

finished rings

finished rings and us

I’ve never done any jewellery making, and had no idea what to expect, but I loved doing this. Now I really want to take a jewellery making course. It was very satisfying working with the metal and watching it come into shape.

If you’re in the market for a pair of rings, I can only recommend this place. You can find out more about it here.

p.s. all these photos were taken by Laila – you get a disc of them included in the workshop price! Also please excuse my somewhat hungover appearance, it was the day after the By Hand London 1st birthday party…

Sewing accessories – what do you actually need?

I have a new best friend – my ironing board. Here she is:

photo (16)

Okay, she’s not much to look at, but getting this posh John Lewis ironing board has changed my life (the sewing part of it, anyway).

Before this I was using a £15 number from the pound shop. I had to hunch over to iron, it gave me static shocks, the cover was so thin that the mesh underneath marked everything, and there was a massive hole burnt in the centre. So this is a 10000% improvement and has made my dressmaking time much more pleasant. Although I still try and avoid non-sewing-related ironing whenever possible.

It got me thinking about other sewing essentials. It’s definitely an activity where you accumulate more and more strange items as you go along – and sometimes it’s hard to know what you actually need. Some accessories make life a million times easier while others just sit in a box and never get used.

Sewing accessories I own and never use:

  • A flexible curve rule. I just tend to wing it when drawing curves.
  • A bias binding maker. I know everyone was drooling over these when they appeared on the Great British Sewing Bee but I don’t see the point. I hardly ever need pre-folded bias binding.
  • A loop turner. Maybe it’s just my idiocy, but these seem absolutely useless. I could never get mine to work. Also, I’m a strong advocate of not turning long tubes of fabric if you can humanly avoid it.

Sewing accessories I own and couldn’t live without

  • A blind hem foot. This actually came with my Bernina, and it’s brilliant, especially if you are allergic to hand-sewing like me.
  • My wonder tape! I cannot sew an invisible zip, stitch in the ditch to secure a facing, or topstitch pockets without this stuff. Get the Collins stuff, not the kind that Prym make (it doesn’t wash away! Ask me how I know.)
  • A rotary cutter and mat. Makes cutting out slightly less tedious.
  • My overlocker – probably stretching the point a bit to call it a sewing accessory, but I love it a lot.
  • Posh interfacing from the English Couture Company. I finally broke down and ordered some of this and it makes a huge difference. The stuff I was using before feels like cardboard now.

Sewing accessories I don’t own but have a sneaking suspicion that they really would make my life easier:

  • A tailor’s ham. I really should get round to buying one of these.  I know you can make your own but it’s such a dull project.
  • A dressmaker’s dummy. So expensive, and they take up so much room.
  • A seam allowance adder for Burda patterns – maybe something like this?

What about you – are there sewing essentials you couldn’t live without? Have you ever bought a sewing accessory that turned out to be totally useless?

New Look 6070 – The Last Dress of Summer

Two dresses finished and blogged in one week! What’s going on? Have I opened up an illegal sweatshop in my spare room? Have I reduced my sleeping requirements to 4 hours a night?

dress 1

Well, no. I have cheated. I finished this ages ago, 3 whole weeks before the wedding it was intended for. This advance planning is unprecedented in the history of this blog, or indeed in my entire sewing career.

This was the first wedding I have EVER attended in London, despite living in the city for 5 years and going to about 25 weddings in that time period. I highly approve and wish more people would get married here (slightly hypocritical given that we dragged everyone up to Scotland). There’s nothing better than getting a taxi home to your own bed.

It was a really beautiful, emotional wedding. The bride’s dress was beyond gorgeous, the vows made me weep, and it was sunny! This only downside was realising that I really can’t dance in these shoes for more than 10 minutes. Should have brought flats.

But anyway, the dress. The pattern is New Look Workroom 6070, which I bought in America more than 2 years ago. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right match, you know?

6070line (1)

I like the use of pleats in this pattern, I think it looks quite RTW, and it’s very forgiving to fit. The only issue was my fabric, which was so drapey and badly behaved! I had to treat it with a firm hand – I interfaced the midriff band, the facing, and a 2cm ring around the whole neckline to stop it stretching out of shape, as well as stay-stitching everything in sight.

I also basted down all the pleats rather than just pinning them as usual. You can see I also added piping, which helps to add some structure, although I’m not sure now if it detracts from the fabric.


Now the fabric is a vintage piece from The Shop on Cheshire Street, and I just barely managed to squeeze this dress out of it. I did lengthen the bodice piece by 1 inch and the skirt 2 inches.

My only issue with this print? I’m not sure if  it looks like I’m wearing this dress, or that I’ve been upholstered in it. There is more than a hint of the chaise longue.

It might just be my discomfort with florals – I don’t really wear or sew them. But the fit of the dress makes up for that. I’m really keen to make this again with long sleeves for the winter, in a plain crepe fabric (maybe an aubergine-y purple?)

I need a bragging moment now. Check out how well I managed to match up the piping on the back! It’s not perfect but it’s probably my best midriff matching ever. High-five to myself.

back zip

Also, I hand-sewed the hems on the skirt and the sleeves. I KNOW. This is probably the first time I have hand sewn a hem since I made my friend’s wedding dress (pre-blog) but this fabric really needed it.

I think this is probably my Last Summer Sewing of 2013 – it’s time to think about autumn now. Unfortunately.

Minerva Blogging Network: New Look 6180

My second project for the Minerva Bloggers Network is now up! You can see it here. Warning: you might need to wear sunglasses.

pink dress 5

See what I mean? This fabric was described as ‘coral’ but in soft light it turns to a screamingly loud hot-pink. When it arrived I was very dubious about the colour. But in the end, I just had to give in to the pinkness. It won!

Here are 7 things about this project that I didn’t have room for in my Minerva post:

  1. I sewed a straight size 10, as there’s a lot of ease in this pattern. I could probably should have done a tiny FBA but for a last gasp summer project it didn’t seem worth it.
  2. New Look patterns appear to be designed for narrow-shouldered hunchbacks (ie. me). I didn’t do any alterations around the back and shoulders and it fits like a dream.
  3. I really should have added pockets in the side seams but I ran out of time.
  4. I managed to buy the perfect matching thread for this fabric without taking a swatch to the shop, which shows how memorable this colour is.
  5. I used this tutorial for turning out lovely pointy shirt collars, which worked really well.
  6. My shirt stand sewing skills are not good. I need to find a better method of doing this. I’ve got that David Coffin book about shirtmaking but I find it too intimidating to read for more than five minutes.
  7. This is not my usual style – too pink, too full-on retro. Which proves that it’s good to go outside your sewing comfort zone occasionally.

Here’s the back of this dress. This fabric is a dream to sew with. It’s a slubby linen-look cotton that presses beautifully.

pink dress3

There’s a v clever way of sewing a notched cuff in this pattern, which I am definitely going to steal for other projects. Here’s a photo, which also gives a better idea of the colour in full daylight.

sleeve cuff

Here’s a covered button close-up to finish. Originally I chose some lovely white buttons from Minerva which are included in the kit, but by the end of sewing I was obsessed with this fabric and needed the whole dress to be pink, including the buttons. The white ones will find a good home in another project.

pink dress4

You can buy the whole kit here from Minerva – it’s £21 including the pattern, which doesn’t seem bad for a new dress (although I forgot to include elastic and thread, as usual). Alternatively you can buy the linen-look cotton fabric I used in this dress here, or the New Look 6130 pattern here.