The year of the sleeve! (Part II)

I can't remember how this blouse came about really. Normally I think about and plan a project for a little while before sewing it, but that wasn't really the case with this blouse, it just happened.

I think that after my Dove blouse I wasn't ready to call it a day with the sleeve trend, so I decided to make another top with a sleeve detail. I was making an order at Minerva Crafts for a bunch of other fabrics and into my order slipped a mere metre of this sunshine yellow viscose challis. This is so not my colour, but I couldn't resist. And I have no regrets.

I wanted a quick and dirty make, and decided I'd sew the Grainline Scout tee and improvise when I got to the sleeves.

I cut out the pattern pieces and lengthened the sleeve piece by 15 cm or so. Possibly a bit more, not sure, I eyeballed it. I didn't enjoy cutting this fabric at all. Viscose doesn't stay in place while it's being cut, and I had all those daisy chains to line up both length and width-wise. I don't have any fool-proof way for doing this other than going slow and checking and double checking that the pattern is lined up.

The sewing was a whole different story. This is where my new sewing machine really showed off! Viscose challis frays like nobody's business, so I've always found finishing seams a pain when sewing with viscose. But my new machine has a double overedge stitch which looks a lot like an overlocker stitch, and it completely eliminates fraying. It's a very slow stitch to sew, but so, so worth it. I ended up finishing all seams this way.

Also, my old machine didn't do a wide range of stitch lengths, so sewing long basting stitches along the sleeve curvature to gather sleeves in order to ease them in was never quite as successful as I wished. This machine though, no problem! Has great long stitches, making easing in sleeves easy peasy.

I've sewn a couple of Scout tees already, so the pattern was not new to me. It is a delightful little pattern, so easy and adaptable. The finished look will really depend on the chosen fabric, from structured and modern in a stiffer fabric, to floaty and relaxed in a lightweight fabric. Also, it's super-hackable. I've made four Scouts in total (incl this one) and three of them were hacks. Two of them I made in two separate fabrics, by splitting the front and back bodice parts in two and creating something like a yoke. And this one...just lengthened the sleeves and added on frilly bits at the end.

Speaking of the frilly sleeves, I made them by cutting out two rectangles that measured lengthwise double the length of the sleeve hem. The width of my rectangles was determined by how much fabric I had left as I only bought one metre (and trust me, it was a squeeze). I basted one of the long edges of each rectangle, and gathered it until it was the same length as the sleeve edge. Pinned, sewed to the sleeve pieces before I attached them to the body of the blouse, and carried on sewing it as per the pattern instructions.

Because my fabric is so thin and fine, I did rolled hems (by machine) on all hems. There's loads of tutorials online for this, but I like this one by Threads Magazine.

I have to say that I'm loving this blouse a lot more than I expected. Don't you love when that happens? When something turns out better than you thought it would? I'm loving it! Can't wait for some warm weather to start wearing it!

The year of the sleeve! (part I)

Sooo, I have to admit that I hate following trends. I have this whole snobbish thing about how it's easy to sheepishly follow trends, but it takes integrity to stay true to one's own style. But every couple of seasons I fall for a trend and have to face my own hypocrisy. And boy have I fallen this season! It's all about sleeves, and I looove it!

Since big and frilly sleeves started popping up on the runways, and later the high street shops, I've been thinking about making my own top with dramatic sleeves. So I looked around the Internets for suitable patterns, and my eyes landed upon the Megan Nielsen Dove blouse. Bingo!

(Two things to come clean about here: 1) See that bit of fabric in the V neck? The facing flipped up as I rushed to get into a pose before the self timer went off. 2) I may have gone a bit crazy with the contrast while editing these photos.)

However, to reduce the cognitive dissonance of "I hate following trends, but look at me following a trend!" I had to at least stick to my standard monochrome tones.

So I made it up in a subtle ivory Prestige crepe from Fabric Godmother. As soon as I saw the pattern I knew I'd be making the full bell sleeves, so I wanted a heavy drapey fabric for this blouse. Something that would have beautiful movement. And this fabric is just the ticket. It is so thick and heavy (for a crepe). The quality is superb and feels very luxurious. As a colleague commented when I wore the blouse to work: "It looks expensive."

This fabric gets 5 stars out of 5 from me!

So let's talk about the pattern. Consistent with my previous experience of MN patterns, this one is well-designed and comes with good instructions. It's quite a loose fitting shape, so there weren't any fitting issues at all. I cut a straight size S and it fits beautifully.

The design is simple and elegant, but as usual with MN patterns, has a modern twist that adds that little something extra. Aside from the obvious, the sleeves, I am a big fan of the V neck finished with a facing. It creates such a clean look that I absolutely love.

You can see that I went for version 3 with the full bell sleeves, and the only modification I made was to the hem. This was not part of the original plan. I loved the look of the long, curved hem, but when I tried it on like that the overall look in this white-ish fabric was a bit...religious-sect-member-uniform. So I made a very impulsive decision to chop a big chunk off the bottom of the blouse and ended up with this boxy, slightly cropped shape. Which I really love! It puts the sleeves in focus and makes the overall look quite clean and simple.

So in summary - I absolutely love my Dove blouse. I feel super glamorous in it! And I can't tell you how many compliments I've received about it. The only issue: I'm bound to dip my sleeves in my food at some point.

Spring has sprung

And with it my spring wardrobe. I'll get there. Indulge me a bit first.

The arrival of spring really is the sweetest time of the year. I love the long nights of summer, the crisp chilliness of autumn, the cosiness of winter, but nothing compares to those first warming rays of sunshine after a long winter. The first snowdrops. Followed by the first daffodils. The apple and cherry blossoms. The first tender leaves on trees. Birdsong. It's like a happiness pill.

While I've never had a diagnosis I am absolutely convinced I have SAD. I become a different person with the arrival of spring. A better me. Me 2.0.

This particular year I've struggled with winter a bit more than normal. So as soon as spring arrived I embraced it. I found myself a new hobby that means I have a good reason to be outside soaking up the sunshine every free minute - gardening. I've turned the conservatory into a temporary greenhouse while preparing the soil in the garden for my tender seedlings. I have grand plans. Big dreams. My ultimate dream is coming home from work a balmy July evening, uncorking a chilled bottle of wine, and making dinner with vegetable I've grown from tiny little seeds. Eating and drinking with friends well into the night (obviously this dream takes place on a Friday).

All this while wearing something me-made. This is where the spring wardrobe comes in. The new hobby does not displace the old. With longer days and more energy there is time for both. So while I am planning my vegetable garden I am also planning my spring wardrobe. I've gone about both projects in much the same way. Decided what I want to make/grow, ordered the materials, and started the prep. Now that the seeds have germinated and my seedlings are growing in the conservatory I've started sewing. I don't have much to show yet, but it wouldn't be spring without some florals, so I've started off with this floral pencil skirt.

The pattern is the Axel skirt by Megan Nielsen. I've always been a fan of her simple, timeless designs with a little modern detail. So far I've made two Darling Ranges, one Kelly skirt (which never saw the light of day because I realised I hated my fabric choice, which isn't exactly a fixable problem) and now two Axels.

The Axel blew my mind. It is so simple, but so perfect. I made the Colette Mabel skirt last year and it just didn't work for my body type. I was so disappointed, because I love how it looks on others. The Axel suits my body the way I wanted the Mabel to. And it's so quick to make! I love quick makes. Sure, something slow and complicated is satisfying, but something quick and easy means half a new outfit in one sewing session. Clearly, I'm not one for delayed gratification.

I made one version 2 without the hip sashes (see photos below), and one version 3 (above). I have nothing but praise for either. The designs and pattern instructions are perfect. This is a great pattern for both beginners and experienced sewers.

My version 2 is a simple black ponte number. It's nothing special (aside from fantastic fit and superb comfort!), but a great wardrobe staple. I expect that I will wear it until it falls apart. And then immediately make another.

I made version 3 in a lovely floral scuba. I've not worked much with scuba as I'm not a huge fan of synthetics (but oh boy is that changing! more on that topic coming in a different post), so I was very pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to work with it. The only difficulty is pressing as it doesn't respond well to heat.  I find using a lot of steam and keeping the iron on the fabric for a bit longer than normal to lock in the heat works well. Just don't use too high heat as it is a synthetic after all.

I have so many more spring projects planned, and so many things to sow in the garden! Good thing the Easter long weekend is coming up!

Toaster Sweater 2 and a trip to Rotterdam

At the end of last year I signed up for Sew My Style 2017. The first item, to be sewn in January, was the Toaster Sweater 2 by Sew House 7.  I had some wonderful sweatshirt fabric that I had bought from Guthrie & Ghani with the intention to turn it into a Linden sweatshirt. However, I didn't get round to sewing the Linden, and when the time came to sew the Toaster sweater, I decided to use my fabric for this.

The sweater sewed up really quickly and easily. It is incredibly comfortable, yet looks stylish, thanks to the neckline shape. I didn't do any modifications at all, and while I am happy with it, next time I will lengthen the hem slightly. Also, I'll try a slightly thinner fabric. My sweatshirt fabric is very thick, and as a result a bit stiff. It looks fine, but I think a bit more drape would look even better. 

Shortly after I made Toaster sweater Josh and I were heading to Rotterdam for a long weekend. It was early February and still cold, so I packed the Toaster. And it did a great job keeping me toasty.

So overall, I am a fan. So much so that I made one for my friend as a birthday present recently. 

The February Sew My Style item was a disaster for me, but that's a story for another time.

And regarding Rotterdam, it is a lovely city. The reason we chose to go was to see a photo exhibition at the Kunsthal. We knew very little about the city before going, except that is has the largest port in Europe. I had been told by a colleague who'd been that it's quite ugly. 

But actually, I didn't find it ugly at all! I loved the architecture! And the mix of old Dutch houses and new, funky buildings.

Of course, it's nowhere near as beautiful as Amsterdam, but it has its own charm.

I wouldn't necessarily go again, as I have an endless list of other places I'd like to see, but I enjoyed our trip here very much.

Photo credit: first 3 photos are by Josh.

Goals for 2017

So last year I outlined how I don't like new year's resolutions, but I'm a big fan of setting myself goals every year.  However small, they motivate me to do something differently. This year is no different. But before listing my goals for 2017, a quick evaluation of my 2016 goals.

2016 goals...

1. Learn to knit more advanced things.
Evaluation: Yes. I knitted my first ever pair of socks in 2016. And two more pairs before the end of the year. I also knitted two cardigans for babies, which is the cheat version of knitting clothes. 

2. Drive more. 
EvaluationBig fat YES. I started the year by driving to Ascot for afternoon tea with friends. Not terribly far, but far enough to test my confidence. Since then I have driven to (well, home from) Devon and the Lake District. I’ve even driven on another continent! Canberra to the Snowy Mountains in Australia. Bit of a silly goal to some, but considering what a nervous driver I was at the beginning of 2016 this one feels like a real victory.

3. See more of the UK. 
Evaluation: Yes. I went with Josh to Devon and the Lake District. I also made a couple of day trips with friends. First to Welford Park in Berkshire to see the snowdrops, then to Hitchin in Hertfordshire to see the lavender fields, and to Bristol to see the hot air balloons ascend over the city. 

4. Work on focus and mindfulness. Yoga and/or meditation. 
Evaluation: Yes and no. I went to a lot of body balance and pilates classes in 2016, which helped massively with anxiety, restlessness, bad sleep, the lot. I stopped going when I switched gyms, but the effects seem to have lasted. To be honest, I think what I needed was a change in mindset and body balance/pilates gave me the opportunity to clear my mind to help me make that change.

5. In terms of sewing, make things using fabrics and patterns I already have instead of buying new.
Evaluation: Fail! Big, massive fail. I have been buying fabrics at a much faster rate than I sew. So it looks like this goal will make a re-appearance this year.

6. Take and share more and better photos on this blog and Instagram.
Evaluation: Yes and no. I made much more of an effort with Instagram and think the quality of my photos are better. The blog, not so much, and it is something I’d like to do as I love having it as a visual diary. So carry-over until this year.

7. Live more frugally. 
EvaluationFail. But it was very pleasant failing at this one. Jokes aside, carryover for this year.

8. Start being a grown-up about my career.
Evaluation: Big yes. I did a lot of thinking about my career and future and spent October-December working really hard on trying to make the changes.

And in 2017 I will...

1. Read more books. Ideally an average of one per month
This might be one of the most simple pleasures, yet I often leave the book on my bedside untouched in favour of scrolling through Instagram. When I think of how many books I could have gotten through in the last 365 days if I had spent those 20 min of scrolling on reading instead I feel like I've cheated myself.

2. Do more!
Bit of a vague goal, but essentially I'd like to fill my free time with more experiences. Day trips. Long walks in the woods/fields. Driving to the beach on a hot weekend. Spa days. Hiking trips. Whatever really. My favourite days from last year was experiencing things with friends and Josh. So more of that.

3. Go somewhere I’ve never been before
I think I’ll make this a yearly goal.

4. Keep exercising
I feel so good when I do it, yet it’s the first thing I give up when I’m going through a busy period in my life (and when I probably need it the most). So I’m going to try really hard to just make it part of my normal routine. Cycling to work definitely helps, even if it doesn’t feel like that on an unlit path in darkest December with icy pouring rain coming down.

5. Continue keeping a visual diary
The older I get the more I feel that time is going quickly. I don’t mind, as I think I’m reasonably good at filling it with nice things, but I’m not so good at remembering those things. Particularly the small details, which often bring the most pleasure. So I will make a real effort to document things on this blog.

6. Sew a coat and a pair or jeans
I didn't really challenge myself last year or learn any new sewing skills, so this year I'm planning to go outside my comfort zone a bit. A coat and a pair of jeans should be two good challenges.

7. Finally finish that quilt
For my mom's 50th birthday I decided to make her a quilt. I didn't finish it on time. She just turned 53 and I still haven't finished it. So I'll aim to finish it for her 54th instead. And make it epic to make up for the time!

8. Career, career, career
I’ll keep the details of my goals here to myself, but this is massively on my mind and something I’m going to continue pouring time and effort into.

9. Consume less/live more frugally
Last year I aimed to not buy so much new fabric and instead use what I already had. And I failed miserably. So I'll try again this year. And while I'm at it, I'll aim to not buy a lot of crap when it comes to material things generally.