MMM ’14 days 1 – 7 and ‘Love at First Stitch’

MMM '14 day 1-7 collage A.jpg

1. Flocked wallpaper skirt/2. Blue brocade skirt/3. Blue and white striped knit top

So far I’ve had it pretty easy. My commitment to wear 3 me-made items a week takes some of the pressure off and even more helpful, we had a long weekend in there too so I didn’t need to be as smart.

But actually this week I also managed a fourth me-made day, day 7, though you can’t really see my outfit. You’ll understand why I included it though…

MMM '14 day 7 A.jpg

Yayyy, it’s Tilly, me and her exciting new book which is out this week, ‘Love at first stitch’! All captured at her lovely book launch yesterday evening which Marie has some great pictures of on her blog.

You will probably have seen the patterns featured in the book and I’m particularly excited by the Mimi blouse, which has a cute gathered yoke on the front and back.

The book itself I’ve only just started reading but it already feels like a very well considered introduction to sewing. Only presenting the techniques that are absolutely essential to carry out the next task feels like a really smart move as it eases the newbie into it.

One thing that caught my eye on the first few pages was reading what the spool and bobbin actually are. Seems obvious but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that in a sewing intro book! Concise and clear instructional writing is not only an art, it’s something you graft at, and I think Tilly has really nailed it.

As a sidebar to all that excitement, let’s talk about meeting other sewers. I can be pretty shy in a social setting so rocking up to an event like this can make me a little nervous. But just in case I’d forgotten, I was reminded sewers are some of the nicest, friendliest people around and was shortly chatting away to lots of cool ladies. If you ever get a chance to take part in a meet-up, definitely do it. Case in point, Rachel’s NYLon meet-up (with international attendees!) taking place Saturday 17th May. Love to see you there!

Posted in Books, Me-Made-May '14 | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Me Made May ’14: three is the magic number

This year is the third year I’ll be doing Me Made May, Zoe’s fantastic event where you wear the heck out of all your lovingly fashioned clothes. This year I wanted to do something slightly different, so here’s my pinky swear:

‘I, Julia of the secret life of seams, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’14. I endeavour to wear one self-made item 3 days a week for the duration of May 2014 and sew 3 items the same month.’

I’ve scaled back from my previous goals to wear handmade everyday. But in 2012 I managed all but 3 days and in 2013 I skipped just one day. So I can certainly do MMM everyday but this year I had two things playing on my mind. After getting a promotion at work (yayyy!) I feel really swamped so recording daily outfits would probably make me late every morning. And that promotion means I feel I need to be a little smarter at work, which rules out more of the clothes I’d usually wear.

So rather than abandoning MMM entirely, ’cause I enjoy it, I’m going for three days a week, with the additional challenge of sewing three new items that hopefully will fit into my work wardrobe better.

Here’s what I’m playing with:

MMM '14 Dresses.jpg

Four dresses…

MMM '14 jumpers and skirts.jpg

…two jumpers and two skirts…

MMM '14 knit tops.jpg

…five knit tops…

MMM '14 woven tops.jpg

…and four woven tops.

Missing is my pink tiger stripe skirt and several other items I just don’t wear anymore.

A count of 18 items is pretty respectable and it gives me some latitude depending on how the weather turns out this month. I’m feeling excited! What about you, are you getting involved this year? Do you find it hard to be objective about the wearability of your me-made clothes?

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Blue tiger knit top and gifts

Blue tiger top collage C.jpg

It’s pretty appropriate to post this on Mother’s Day since my model is my Mum. Hi Mum! Making a Christmas knit top for her is the piece of clothing I’ve tried to perfect the most. Christmas 2011 and 2012 saw mixed results so after a few anvil-sized hints from my customer, for Christmas 2013 I did a fitting session to get a better end result.

Using my original pattern, which was traced from one of her existing tops, I cut out the bodice pieces around the neck and armscye as I had before but then tapered out in a straight line until the waist was wider by 2 inches so I could tinker with the fit.

I then followed the standard knit top construction model: sewed shoulder to shoulder on the bodice, including stabilising stay tape and inserted the sleeves in flat. This left a vaguely cross-shaped piece of fabric, which I then pinned to her. Or around her, our relationship hadn’t broken down so far in this process that I was deliberately jabbing at her with pins.

Predictably the fit ended up being a lot better and I had a much happier recipient!


I’ve inherited many things from my Mum, and pretty obvious from these pics is that we both love bold colours and fantastic prints. So when I spied this snazzy design in Simply Fabrics I knew she’d love it. Key to the pattern placement was where the off-white section fell. I placed this across the bust so the emphasis fell there and then continued the placement across the sleeves.

You’ll see this section tapers away across the back but I don’t mind the asymmetry there whereas across the chest it would run the risk of looking unbalanced.

So, that’s the top! But more important is the person I made it for.

This blog, and what it represents, the way I look at colour, at shape, at light, my urge to make something, all of that comes from her and it’s a big part of who I am. Something that gives me a lot of joy and a part that is all the more important for being something she gave me.

Happy Mother’s Day Mum xxx

Posted in Knits, Tops | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Velvet plaid Anna dress


It’s not every day that black velvet plaid stretch fabric comes into your life. But when that moment does arrive, you find yourself compelled to sew up a dress that’s perfectly proper but feels a little bit saucy. That dress is my new black plaid velvet Anna dress.

The fabric is hard to photograph but under artificial light you can see the plaid design a little better. It is a stable knit but pretty cheap and sucks in passing debris like it’s a black hole.

The v-neck bodice is from the By Hand London Anna dress pattern, with the sleeve addition coming from their sewalong. Following my fit issues last time, I cut a UK size 6 at the shoulders tapering down from the underarms to a size 10 at the waist.

You can still see some bunching just above the waist but I quite like the general silhouette difference with a tighter skirt and a looser bodice, which makes me feel less like I poured myself into it.

The skirt pattern is a bit of improv: I cut round the skirt of a knit dress I like, which I did for my hot pink Tiger print skirt from last year. This time however, for reasons unknown to my conscious mind I didn’t add seam allowance. Hmmm. This is why the skirt is so tight, and in fact you can see little bits of bunching around my thighs. This is my biggest bugbear with the dress.


The pictures above hopefully give a little more detail of the bodice. I was catching up on the pattern episode of the Great British Sewing Bee as I looked over this dress. I think I rather let the side down when it comes to matching the skirt and bodice!

Once I tried it on, it quickly became apparent I needed to make two significant adjustments: take out the seams as much as possible on the skirt as it was too snug and find a way to take extra space out of the bodice.

I was surprised that even though the upper part of the bodice was now a UK 6 rather than a UK 10, it was still too big for me. The stretch factor doesn’t account for this since it’s so stable and the roominess was similar to my previous Anna. A comment from Senjiva mentioned that I could do with pinching out some of the length on the bodice and I think that is probably one of the key issues.

To tackle the roominess this time, I sewed a 2 inch seam on the shoulders/upper sleeve (rather than 5/8 inch). This dramatically improved the fit, made the sleeves less voluminous and raised the neckline so it wasn’t causing riots in the streets.

I finished off the sleeves and hem with a ballpoint twin-needle but left the neckline unfinished. The fabric won’t fray so I figured, why mess with it? It’s my favourite part of the dress because although it’s not low-cut, I feel it’s a flattering bit of decolletage.

The rest of the dress is sewed with a zig-zag stitch except for the pleats and darts which I used a triple stitch for, as is my custom.

Although far from perfect, the dress is quite fun and I think it demonstrates the Anna bodice can be re-purposed successfully in a stable knit. And I don’t like to take her name in vain but it feels a little Joan-esque.

Posted in Dresses, Knits, Modern patterns | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Inky Anna dress


The air almost *smells* like Spring and I have a semi-functional USB cable, rejoice! And my first project back is a better-late-than-never By Hand London pattern. A pretty Anna dress in a fetching inky rayon.

The fabric is a greeny-grey colour with ink-coloured splotches, and hails from a stall in Lewisham market outside the famed Rolls & Rems. (It should be twinned with the The Man Outside Sainsburys!) Is it weird I preferred the stall to the shop? I might be irredeemably cheapskate.

The dress is a straight size 10 in the midi length, and I used the sewalong on the By Hand London blog to add a kimono sleeve to make it a little more practical. I also decided to get stuck in and try my first invisible zipper before remembering I didn’t have a zipper foot, so ended up putting it in like it was a standard zip.

When I first tried on the dress though, I quickly realised that while the waist was snug, I needed a different size around the shoulders. My dirty fix was to increase the seam allowance around the zip from half-way up my back. That sorted the gaping at the back and the neckline lies better. But the shoulder seams moved backwards and, even more irritatingly, I have a slight hump in the zip now, hmmm, sexy.


For my second version which is now cut out, I’m tapering down from a 6 just under the sleeve to a 10 at the waist, so we’ll see how this comes out.


  • Of course I love the print. I have a print fixation.
  • The design feels like such an elegant shape.
  • The pattern instructions are lovely and straight-forward, very painless to assemble!

Love less:

  • I ended up with lots of pointed bits where  some of the skirt panels joined each other. This made hemming far more nightmarish, and it’s a bit of a pig’s ear in there to be honest. The technical issue here might have been the Britney documentary I was trying to watch at the same time as I cut, NO REGRETS.
  • As I kind of suspected before I started, the skirt style is not my favourite. It’s fairy snug across the midriff and leaves my waist feeling a bit elided. I think the design is very smart though and I know Roisin has made a gazillion dazzling Anna dresses with different skirt options, so in the spirit of ripping her off/loving homage, I’m going to follow her lead and switch up the lower half.

Coming next: Black velvet plaid Anna!

Posted in Dresses, Modern patterns | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

The joy of scraps


The reason for this charming collage? I’ve lost the cable that lets my camera talk to my computer, so no new photos. Instead I thought I’d get all reflective and talk about scraps.

The remnants bin is my favourite place to shop from. Picking fabric from everyone else’s scraps is so low-stakes that it opens up your mind to other options. Never sewn with that kind of fabric before? It can be an experiment.

Don’t think that colour suits you? Just use it on the sleeves. Only half a metre? Mix it with another fabric in your garment.

As well as stretching your creative chops, there’s also the pride in turning something unlikely into a piece of clothing that excites you.

The clothes in the picture all used remnants and the bejewelled sweater is the most recent example. Part of the fun is looking at it and thinking back to its origins.

What’s your favourite way to get your creative juices flowing?

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It’s Liiiiiistmas: Top 5 of 2013

Now I’ve eaten my birth-weight in chocolate, thoughts turn to the the end of one year and the beginning of the next. And happily Gillian of Crafting a Rainbow is running her Top 5 blog series again this year, and posts reflecting on 2013 are popping up all over the place!

I’m going to throw my own top 5 into the mix but given that I haven’t sewn that much this year, I figured I’d do one in each category.

1. Top hit

Has got to be the Bejwelled sweater. It isn’t technically wonderous but it was exactly what I was intending to make. And come on, it has JEWELS.

2. Top miss

The fraying on my Blue brocade skirt is a real shame (though not enough that I’ve actually done anything about it of course, despite the numerous great suggestions from commenters). Don’t get me wrong, I still wear it a lot but I am slightly nervous it will just shred like tissue paper one day at some kind of crucial professional moment. It’s high stakes office-wear!

3. Top reflection

2013 in review2013 wasn’t the most productive year sewing-wise. I only made 8 items (plus one not yet blogged). That’s disappointing in some ways but really, my year had significant periods of miserableness. I also disappeared from this blog for a pretty long time. What I learnt again was how doing the things you love reminds you who you are, and those reminders can be useful when you’re thrown off course.

4. Top inspiration

My most constant inspiration is everyone in the sewing community. This year I had the opportunity to interview two inspiring people, Tilly and Sarah of Pattern Runway, and I also read dozens of blogs, discovered amazing patterns and admired a long, long list of inspiring projects. The creative, positive and supportive environment that can be found online has been a big part of my life for several years now, and I count myself lucky to have found it.

5. Top goal

I actually have a few goals for next year: dig into my stash, sew some more challenging things, make use of some of the really cool patterns I’ve bought recently…but it kind of boils down to my 2013 goal. Sew more! And of course I want to blog more as well. I like you invisible people.

Have an excellent New Years, whether you’re out raving ’til the break of dawn bouyed up on a sea of champagne or tucked up with a hot chocolate. Catch you on the flip side!

Posted in Taking stock | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments