Backstitch discount code, and fabric tidying news

Check out the colours on this:

Hurricane sea bundle

It’s the ‘Hurricane Sea Bundle’ from Backstitch, and it makes me want to drop £100 on a walking foot and go over to the dark side (or take up quilting, as it’s also known).

If you like beautiful bundles of colourful fabric too, you’re in luck, because I’m part of the blog-hop that Alice of Backstitch has organised to promote their shiny new website. And that means I have a 10% discount code for you!

The code is: WLYES, and it’s valid from today (the 29th October) until Thursday at midnight (the 31st October). Just put it in at checkout on

If you’re not a quilter they have lots of independent dressmaking patterns, including Victory, Sewaholic, and Megan Nielsen. And of course they sell beautiful fabric by the metre too.

To celebrate the new site, Backstitch are also running a competition. To enter, you just need to order something from their site. The prizes are pretty ace:

1st Prize: £50 off first order and 20% off all subsequent orders for a whole year

2nd Prize: £25 off first order and 15% off all subsequent orders for six months

3rd prize: £10 off first order and 15% off all subsequent orders for three months

So if you want to support an awesome small business, go and order something!

Fabric tidying news

In other news, I have finally got around to tidying up my fabric stash. You may remember from a previous post that my crafting area is not the most orderly of places. An annual clean-up is necessary, or I will end up sewing in a squalid nest of fraying scraps, orphaned pattern pieces, and stray threads.

My usual method is just to dump everything on the floor, and then fold it up and cull as I go.

Here’s the before shot. Readers of a nervous disposition might want to avert their eyes:

fabric stash

And here’s afterwards:

tidied fabric stash

I use these Samla IKEA boxes, and they’re great. I’ve currently got four boxes of fabric (one is entirely scraps) and two of wool. They’re completely full so I’m not allowed in any fabric shops until I’ve managed to sew some of this stuff.

What’s particularly pleasing is that we now have a shelf free for storing our picnic basket, a household essential as I’m sure you’ll agree.

That concludes your exciting tidying-up news for today. Does anyone else feel the need to do a seasonal cull like this?

Twenty Top Tips for Topstitching

20 top tips for topstitching
I promised to write this post AGES ago, and here it finally is – my top tips for topstitching, gained through many hours of frustration, swearing, and unpicking tangled threads from my Bernina.

The basics:

  1. Use topstitching thread in your top spool, normal thread in your bobbin.
  2. You must use a topstitching needle (or a jeans needle). If you don’t do this, terrible things will happen. Never, never, never use a normal needle for topstitching with heavy thread, unless you actively enjoy frustration.
  3. Set your stitch length to be slightly longer than normal, I usually click mine up three lengths on my Bernina.
  4. Take a scrap of your fashion fabric and fold it in half. This is now your practice scrap. Keep it close. Before you topstitch a tricky seam, sew a practice length on your scrap. Much better to get this scrap all gnarled up than your beautiful project.
  5. If your thread gets puckered on top, lower the tension number to loosen it. If it’s too tight, set the tension a bit higher.
  6. Choose a consistent position for topstitching, and stick to it. I often line the edge of my foot up against the seam line as it’s the easy option, but if you have a fancy straight stitch or edge stitch foot you can use that.
  7. To prevent your machine from eating the fabric, pull the bobbin and top thread together at the start of every seam. There’s an excellent description of how to do this here.
  8. Topstitching stretch fabric can be ugly. If you’re sewing decorative lines on single thicknesses of fabric (like jeans pockets), iron some interfacing on the back, or they will stretch out to infinity.

blue jeans topstitching

Using a double needle – ninja level topstitching

  1. Double needle topstitching is tricky. You will need to test it every time you use it. This is where your scrap fabric comes in.
  2. Buy a special twin needle – you can get a 4mm one here in the UK. I  wouldn’t recommend trying to mimic this by sewing two lines of thread, it’s incredibly hard to match them up perfectly.
  3. Every machine is different for twin topstitching, so check your manual. I thread the 2 threads exactly as I would with 1. I put the thread from the usual spool into the left needle, and the thread from the new spool into the right needle.
  4. You can only sew very gentle curves with a double needle, and you can’t turn and pivot. For jeans, the main issue will be the decorative topstitching around the fly. Draw in a smooth curve and practice it first on your test scrap.

General tips to minimise frustration

  1. Don’t be afraid to use the handwheel! Especially at the beginning and end of seams with lots of different layers, like the waistband.
  2. When your needle gets stuck, it can be temporary or it can be a sign of doom.  To find out, gently rotate the handwheel back and forth. Sometimes you can coax it out – often by rotating it backwards. Sometimes you need to stop, unpick an enormous hamster’s nest of tangled threads, and start all over again (sorry).
  3. Topstitching will never feel as easy as normal sewing. Expect some reluctance from your machine.  Learn to distinguish between the slow and reluctant feeling your machine makes when going over bulky seams, and the ‘help help I am stuck in the needle plate’ signal you get when things have gone very wrong.
  4. You might need to re-jig the pattern instructions to make topstitching seams easier. Here’s the order I sew jeans in.
  5. Arrange your pieces so you can do a period of normal sewing, then topstitch lots of seams at once. Otherwise you will go insane changing threads and needles and re-jigging tension.
  6. You should sew all your topstitching lines in one fell swoop. Stopping and starting in the middle never looks good. It’s very hard to match up the line of thread perfectly, especially with a double needle.
  7. Check the fit before you topstitch any seams. Unpicking that shiz is not fun.
  8. Buy a lot more topstitching thread than you think you need, especially if you are sewing jeans or doing double topstitching. 3 spools is the minimum for a classic 5-pocket jean style.

I’m not an expert by any means – this is just what worked for me. Let me know what I’ve missed out!

Victorian King’s Cross

When I first moved to London, King’s Cross was a huge, echoing shed of a building. It was always freezing cold and full of people with huge suitcases huddling in front of the departures board. There were about 5 seats in the whole station, and nowhere to get a nice sandwich.

I remember arriving there from Edinburgh on the day we moved, and thinking I would never really be at home in London. It was just too big and impersonal and full of people.

Luckily things have changed since then. I’ve lived here for more than five years. London no longer feels scary and unwelcoming. And King’s Cross looks pretty different too. They’ve finally knocked down the 70s green shed out the front, and built a whole new side entrance with an awesome twisty roof. There are many places to get a tasty sandwich, and even a huge pub in the old sorting office, possibly the only nice railway station pub in the whole of the UK.

A couple of weeks ago, they had a Victorian themed opening weekend to celebrate. I went down with Alex to have a look, as I am a big fan of fake Victorianism (although I draw the line at steampunk).

victorian ladies

The main event was in Granary Square, where the new Central St Martins campus is, just behind the station. It was all dressed up with Victorian-esque stalls:


crockery smashing

cheese stand

There were many out-of-work actors running around in bustles and tophats, having a fine old time shouting to each other in their best faux-Cockney accents, and accosting passers-by with hearty Dickensian banter.

The lady in the photo below was selling chilli jam from her cart, which doesn’t seem particularly 19th century to me, although I could be wrong (I usually am).

Behind her you can see a big fake chimney they set up, which small children could go and pretend to sweep.


We even won a coconut on the coconut shy (okay, Alex won a coconut. I failed miserably).

coconut shy

You could also have a go on a penny farthing. Those things are ridiculously hard to cycle, even at half-size.

half size penny farthing

penny farthing

I don’t know who paid for all this, but it was completely free, including the best bit – ye old Victorian Photoshoppe.


This was a tent containing a selection of costumes (all from Angels) and a man taking photos with a Nikon cunningly disguised as an old-skool camera. You could go into the tent, get dressed up, have your picture taken, and end up with a print of your Victorian self to take home.

authentic victorian macbook
This man was using ye olde Victorian Macbook to edit the photos there and then

Obviously we queued up for this. The man told us to ‘look deadpan’ and then made me hold an egg, and Alex hold a tiny taxidermied mouse. Why? Not sure. But here’s the resulting photo.

victorian photo

I think it’s one for the album. I also have a sudden urge to make myself a corset and bonnet.

Minerva Blogging Network: Black skinny jeans (Burda 7863, again)

For my latest Minerva project, I’ve made another pair of Burda 7863 jeans. I am nothing if not predictable.

jeans 2

You can read my Minerva post about these jeans here. I used some silver stretch fabric that sadly lost all of its sparkliness in the wash, but I think this is par for the course with metallic fabrics unless the sparkly thread is woven in.

Luckily the base fabric is pretty dreamy anyway. It’s a very stretchy denim. Oddly, the stretch runs from top to bottom, rather than from selvedge to selvedge, so I turned the fabric 90 degrees when cutting out.

Here’s a close-up of my topstitching and one of the rivets – you can see the fabric looks almost grey in certain lights, which I rather like.

jeans topstitching

How long does it take to make a pair of jeans?

I thought it might be useful to have an estimate of how long it takes me to make a pair of these. My timings are vague, and I sew quite slowly, with many breaks to change podcast/make cups of tea/hunt for snacks. Hopefully someone will find it helpful anyway.

I usually sew jeans in 4 or 5 separate sessions. Here’s the order I use, which is different from the pattern.

  1. Cutting out, interfacing and changing the thread in my sewing machine and overlocker: 2 or 3 hours, including a long and frustrating hunt for my twin topstitching needle.
  2. Sewing the pockets and the front fly, attaching the back yoke and topstitching, sewing the back legs together: About 2 hours.
  3. Attaching the back pockets, sewing the front legs to the back legs, topstitching the seam with a twin needle, basting the side seams to check fit: 1 and a half hours. You can do this a lot quicker without basting the side seams, but every fabric varies so I prefer to check how they fit at this stage.
  4. Attaching the waistband, sewing the side-seams, sewing the waistband facing, topstitching the waistband and side-seams: About 3 hours of sewing, depending on how annoying the topstitching decides to be. NOTE: If you are using a metal zip that you have to shorten with pliers, add an hour on to this. It’s a huge pain.
  5. Sewing on belt-loops, attaching rivets and buttons, hemming: About 1 hour. Making the holes for the rivets is time-consuming.

The only fitting change I made for this pair was this flat seat alteration from the legendary Anne Rowley, star of the GBSB. I wouldn’t exactly describe myself as having a ‘flat seat’, but it does seem to have eliminated some of the wrinkles under the bum. However I think you can never entirely get rid of these, especially with stretch fabric.

jeans back

I’m fairly happy with the fit, except for the legs, which have drag-lines in odd places. I think this might be my last pair from this pattern for a while.  I’m not done with trousers yet, but for my next pair I’m going to go a bit smarter (and skip all of the dreaded topstitching).

jeans 1

If you’d like to make your own version of these jeans, you can buy the kit from Minerva here.

UPDATE – Public service announcement: please be careful with your zips!

After writing this post and sending my project details to Minerva, this happened:

photo (17)

I zipped the slider right off the first time I wore them! This is completely my own fault. I got a bit over-zealous with the pliers and took too many teeth off the zip, leaving room for this catastrophe to occur.

I managed to fix this but it was an enormous pain, involving tiny implements and much fiddling. Don’t be like me – be careful out there!

p.s. apologies for how blurry the photos are in this post. I would sack the photographer but he seems to be a permanent fixture now, and he’s quite good at making cups of tea.