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Starting to sew

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

I know my blog’s been quite sewing-heavy recently, and I had a couple of comments asking how I got started and if I had any tips on where to begin. It’s kind of a tricky one to answer because sewing has been in my periphery for quite a few years and I can’t really remember what inspired me to start and how I learned, but I’ll try to help!

My sewing story

I started sewing on my mum’s machine at home in the summer before going off to university (ten years ago, woe). I’d mostly do t-shirt ‘reconstructions’ where I’d buy vintage shirts from Pop Boutique or the charity shop and cut them into something more fun. Here’s a couple of those old shirts on skinny little baby me.

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I got sufficiently into it that I bought myself a fairly cheap overlocker – that’s the machine that makes sewing stretchy fabrics like t-shirt jersey much easier and gives pro-looking finished seams to garments. I can’t find the exact model any more but it’s something like this one. It’s getting on for ten years old now and still going strong.

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But then I went off to uni sans machines and didn’t really think about sewing much again until fairly recently when classes at Ray Stitch and the Make Lounge piqued my interest again. This coincided with the Great British Sewing Bee bringing sewing onto national telly, and a huge recent rise in quality home sewing blogs and indie pattern designers offering endless inspiration.

Get the gear

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If you’ve never used a machine before, buy a fairly entry-level one to start off with. You’ll only really need back & forward and zig-zag stitches to get going; expect to spend £100-200. I’ve got a slightly more swish computerised Janome DC3050 which I’ve been very pleased with.

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You’ll also need the obvious miscellaneous items like fabric and paper scissors, large headed pins, hand sewing needles, threads and a seam ripper. Definitely a seam ripper. Cute little vintage storage box optional.

Starter projects

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

Start with some basic projects like cushion covers, tote bags and other little projects to get a feel for stitching before moving onto garments and deciding if an overlocker is worth your investment – it’s by no means a requirement, even for clothing. Look online for tutorials to follow: here are a few I’ve seen lately:

– Elena has a great How to Sew series on her blog
– A round-up on simple T-shirt tutorials
Cotton & Curls has some fabulous simple tutorials for clothing, both up-cycled and from scratch

Or try some of the billion books out there. Here are a few I own and recommend:

Do a class

The Make Lounge

Consider doing a class if you can afford it and have a place nearby. I find it invaluable to actually do something alongside other people and have an expert there to ask if you get stuck. My favourite craft haven The Make Lounge is sadly closing up soon, but have a look at the great list Jennifer made of alternative venues in London. I can highly recommend the classes at Ray Stitch first hand.

Scout chambray tee

That’s it really! Sewing is a fairly easy hobby to get into at an entry level, but I also find it incredibly satisfying to always be learning new, more advanced, techniques and finding that practice does pay off. Feel free to ask in the comments if you have any more questions, I’d be happy to help. I’ll also do a post soon on my favourite online resources for fabrics, patterns etc.

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By the way, I’ve started a separate blog for all my sewing adventures at whatkatiesews.net. I’ll probably still post an overview of my makes here too, but there’s all sorts of in-depth sewing-specific geekery that felt out of place here. So please pop over there and follow me if you want to keep up with my sewing makes in full.

Pottery class with The Amazings

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I might be biased because I share a studio with them, but The Amazings is a fantastic startup with a creative and socially-aware bent. They offer classes, courses and workshops on subjects as diverse as woodworking, philosophy and bike maintenance, and all the teachers are 50-plus elders with amazing life experience.

Pottery class

Last month I went along to one of their classes – a hand-built clay pot taught by Amazing Lesley, held in her workshop right here in Stoke Newington.

Pottery class
Pottery class
Pottery class

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Recent sews and The Shop

Firstly, thank you so much for all your comments and messages about Yoni. It was amazing to hear what a loved little cat he is from all corners of the internet, and hearing from you really did help me get through the days. He’s back home now, slowly getting used to normal life again with an extra big dose of love and support from us.

As promised, here are the things I made during my anxiety-induced sewing spree while he was in the vets.

Tania culottes

First, a pair of jazzy culottes! I love culottes: the practicality of breeze-resistant shorts with the cuteness of a little flippy skirt is a winner to me. The pattern is the new Megan Nielsen Tania culottes, bought from M is for Make.

Tania culottes

The pattern was really fun to put together – it felt almost like magical origami creating the pleats and crotch with simple folds and lines of stitching. The only thing I mucked up is the waistband with some wobbly topstitching – I might unpick and redo it neater. I also haven’t properly finished the bottom edge yet because I’m terrible at hemming, so it’s just overlocked for now.

Vintage fabric

The fabric is a vintage piece of 70s polyester with a gorgeous Scandinavian-looking mountain print. I love how the patten drape makes the peaks point up and outwards, a little reminiscent of fireworks. Just don’t make the mistake I did of ironing interfacing onto polyester with a hot iron – I burnt a clean plastic-scented hole through my first waistband piece, and luckily had just enough fabric to cut another. I’ll definitely be using this pattern again; in fact I’ve just bought some jersey that I think will make a great no-zip-required version.

Feather tee
Vintage fabric

(Excuse my face, I appear to have the dead eyes of someone who’s been worrying for three weeks straight..) This is another Scout, although radically different from my last one. The front is made from a vintage silk scarf, which was happily just the right size for the pattern piece. The sleeves and back are the same grey jersey as my ballet dress. Very pleased that this turned out just how I imagined it. The Scout tee is such an amazing pattern: so simple but hangs so well despite having no darts or shaping, and the possibilities for creative variations are vast.

Vintage fabric

Finally, a fail. I tried to take photos but they looked too awful to share! It was supposed to be a Sureau dress by Deer & Doe, made from a super soft piece of vintage cotton with an abstract tulip print, above. It seems in sewing that lots of small mistakes can add up to a big mess of a garment, which sadly I think happened here. I chose a size too big so the fit isn’t quite right. The neckline was gaping so I attempted a shoulder-line fix, then added a half collar which sits wonkily. The sleeve caps billow at the back. The skirt twists annoyingly to the side. I’m not sure if I’ll try and fix it some more, or cut it down into a skirt maybe. It would be a shame to waste the pretty fabric completely. Perhaps I should start making toiles before cutting the real fabric.

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All of the fabrics came from The Shop on Cheshire St, which I visited with Jen one lunchtime (check out Jen’s blog for some much better photos and info, this unprepared blogger didn’t have her camera). It is indeed the treasure trove that countless bloggers promised: walls lined with shelves of vintage fabric, with even more stuffed into drawers and baskets underneath which you’re encouraged to rummage through. There’s everything from recycled curtains to half-finished handmade skirt pieces, plus loads of large pieces of 2-4 metre long cottons and polys, perfect for skirt or dress projects.

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There’s also a great line in vintage notions, and basket upon basket of vintage silk scarves at around a fiver a pop. At the back are curtains, cushions and clothing and there’s also plenty of knitted scarves and crochet blankets. Prices are eye-poppingly amazing, ranging from a few quid for the smaller bits to no more than £15 for larger pieces (my take-home stash that made everything in this post was only £18). You’d be hard pushed to find such a lovely variety of prints in new fabrics for those kinds of prices. Find The Shop at 3 Cheshire St just off the top of Brick Lane – I’ll be back to replenish my stash very soon.

Healing

Well. If you follow me on twitter you’ll have seen that we’ve had an awful couple of weeks. I don’t really feel like talking much in depth about what happened, but in brief our little Yoni cat suffered a massive trauma, during treatment of which they found he had a rare blood type, an aggressive infection leading to amputation of his back leg, anaemia, icterus, and – scariest of all – hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic non-curable heart disease which has caused a thrombus (blood clot) near his heart. The good news is he’s recovering very well from everything that’s been thrown at his little body, amazing the vets who gave him a very poor prognosis when he first arrived. He’s now adapting to life as a three-legged tripod kitty and we hope to have him home by the end of the week. The bad news is his life expectancy now hangs at between one month and seven years due to the heart disease. So on one hand, yes, it’s great that he’s pulled through from the trauma, but also this is just the start of a very painful period of uncertainty.

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It feels like I’ve cried out every tear I had in me, but I do at least take comfort in knowing that this little cat has had the best life we could have given him, and will continue to for as long as he’s got left in him. He certainly couldn’t have been more loved, and I’m very sure he knows just how special he is to us. He’s my best bud and it’s been so lonely not having him around for two weeks. Of course our other kitty Lila is lovely and very special to me too, but they are worlds apart in terms of personality. Lila is so laid back, content and happy – she’ll gladly take a quick cuddle then pad off to lie in the hallway for a nap. Yoni is more demanding: always up in our faces, wanting hugs, wanting food, wanting to see what we’re up to and trying to nose in. So I’ve felt the loss more acutely because everything – from eating breakfast unhindered by meowy demands to share, working at home without my cute furry colleague, to going to bed without his comforting warm weight at my feet – reminds me of him.

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I was basically a wreck last week, when we weren’t even sure if he’d make it home at all. I couldn’t really work as my mind was so fractious. I could barely remember to eat or drink, and only got dressed so we could go and visit him every day. It’s really hard to keep distracted and will the days along when you feel too sad to do anything that you used to find fun. I found the few things that gave me any calm were keeping busy with making and doing at home. Pottering in the garden, tending to our little veg patch and taking quiet enjoyment in seeing the plants and flowers unfold into spring. Every day there’s little jobs to do and progress to see out there, and the recent rain followed by warmth has made our veggies bloom.

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I turned into a sewing fiend. I blasted through the stash of vintage fabric I bought at The Shop the previous week and made two tops, some culottes and a dress in a matter of days – with varying degrees of success. I find time flies when you’re at the sewing machine and that’s exactly what I needed to pass the hours between our visits and phone calls with the vet. I’ll share my makes and a bit more about The Shop soon.

I’m also having a think about if there’s way way I can help other cats and owners who find themselves in this awful situation. It seems like there’s a lack of information about lots of things relating to kitty health – especially blood transfusions – that my internet skillz might be able to help spread. I’ll also be reopening my Etsy shop shortly with some proceeds going to cat charity (and some towards our vet bills – ouch).

Me-made May: jersey dress & raglan tee

When I’m not working or pottering in the garden in the springlike weather (finally!) I’ve been spending every spare minute sew-sew-sewing. I’m fully loving my overlocker again, so both of this week’s makes are in jersey. Funnily enough, both patterns are from Dixie DIY too.

Jersey ballet dress

This is the Dixie ballet dress, made in some charcoal grey jersey from Tissu. I followed the pattern pretty much to the letter, just shortening the sleeves and adding a cuff. The sleeves and armholes came out a little loose: I think because I can’t figure out how to compensate for reduced seam allowance when overlocking around armhole seams. I still love this dress anyway, it’s so comfortable and the kind of thing I’ll wear all the time. (Yes, the cat must appear in all my MMMay photos now.)

Raglan tee

I used the leftover fabric along with some pink-marl jersey from Minerva for this raglan tee, based on the free Dixie Hot Cocoa pattern and very much inspired by Bee’s Madewell tee. Two-tone raglans for the win!

Raglan tee

I just lengthened the body, shortened the sleeves and added my now-traditional UCP (Useless Chest Pocket), which I interfaced before sewing on so it didn’t get all stretched out. The bottom hem is just overlocked, but it looks kind of unfinished so I think I’ll hem it properly. Such a quick, fun sew, I’ll definitely make more.

I really want to make Dixie’s two-piece tunic as well, so I’m on the lookout for some interesting fabric to try it in – I think something vintage would work well.

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