Tension: of the bobbin, and of myself…

Susie's dress

This is the dress a friend asked me to alter for her – nothing difficult, just raising the hem a little to stop it dragging on the floor. Not a problem… So long as you know how to sew with knits.

I do not.

Sewing with knit (or jersey) fabric has struck fear into the heart of far braver and more accomplished sewers than me. It is notoriously mobile, and so easily stretched out of shape while sewing. I tried to make a pyjama top for my daughter out of the stuff last year, and let’s just say neither I nor the top looked very pretty at the end of it. So the very sensible voice in my head said “Run for the hills!”

But I also felt a sense of shame in admitting defeat over something as simple as a hem. I mean, it’s just a straight line, right? How can you explain the fear of knits to a non-sewer in a way that does not make you look like a total wuss?

The other problem was my machine: ever since I bought it several years ago, I’ve had trouble with the zigzag stitch. Even on stable cottons, the fabric bunches up into long, lumpy lines – a problem apparently known as ‘tunnelling’ – here’s what it looks like with a twin needle (which is a zigzag underneath):

Tunnelling collage 2

(Pictures taken halfway through fixing the problem. Before this, it was worse!)

It’s usually a tension problem but even whacking my needle tension up to the highest slot didn’t help. So I bought time, told my friend “I’ll see what I can do” – and set out to read the internet.

There are plenty of tips on sewing knit fabric with a standard sewing machine, and two of the most successful seem to be to use a zigzag stitch (or a twin needle, which zigzags on the reverse), and to use a walking foot. Fortunately I was check-check on the foot and needle. But the zigzag was a deal-breaker. And so in desperation, I did what we are told never to do: I altered the bobbin tension (gasp of mock horror)…

It worked! This YouTube video was seriously helpful in showing that my bobbin was sprung waaaay too tightly – the thread would barely come out, a far cry from the “spider dropping down on a thread” it was supposed to be. No wonder I kept breaking my threads! No wonder I’d always had to have the needle tension set much higher than average! It all made sense!

And here is the result: not perfect, but a pretty good double topstitched hem, with no stretching and very little tunnelling.

Twin needle hem 3And the reverse side: a decent zigzag, just trimmed to finish as I am told that knits do not fray. Why do I never take my photos *after* ironing?!

Twin needle hem 6

This project, although small, took me right out of my comfort zone. But what a result! It went a long way towards banishing my fear of knits, forced me to fix a long-term sewing machine problem, and – most importantly – helped a friend. Totally worth all that tension!

Roses and elephants

Zip pouch for Rose 3

When I came across a little shop in Cambridge selling off old zips for 50p each, I bought a stack and cycled home happily, making plans in my head for how to use them all… But when I got home, my nieces had other ideas! They played zip pictures, zip counting, zip writing, and tying zips to their scooters, but when it got to the zip tug-of-war, I figured I’d better step in! The only way I could persuade them to hand back their beloved playthings was to promise that I’d make each of them a bag out of their chosen zip… So, here is bag number one: inspired by the pink zip, and my niece’s love of all things pink and girly.

I used Noodlehead’s great Open Wide Zippered Pouch tutorial, along with two Ikea fabrics for the exterior (I think the floral one is called Rosali). I used a pretty little woven polyester stars fabric for the lining, cut from a (new) shower curtain so that it’ll be water resistant in case she wants to use it as a wash bag.

It was a lovely, easy, well-explained tutorial, and a very satisfying result. Next time I’d use a softer, smaller zip – the one I used was very large and it was difficult to bend and fold, so the edges of my bag didn’t meet very cleanly. But I don’t think she is going to mind that – the bag is PINK, and the rest is just detail!

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Buoyed by the success of bag number one, I also made one for my baby nephew who, admittedly, had no interest in the zips whatsoever but still needed a present. Those elephants make me happy! They’re a lightweight Japanese cotton (“Elephant Parade”) which I interfaced to stiffen it a little, and were combined with a piece of heavier weight off-white cotton/linen mix curtain fabric that I had in my stash. The lining is also a (white) shower curtain. Because nothing can ever be too waterproof, with a baby around…

Toile zip pouch collage… Yes, another one! This time for my sister-in-law. She loves all things vintage and most especially yellow roses and birds. One of the bargain zips serendipitously matched this toile (by Sanderson?), festooned with – you got it – birds and roses, and I couldn’t resist! This time I sewed the lining closed along the side edge rather than the bottom – I think it looks a lot neater and less noticeable that way (although I had to take the photos quickly, so forgot to take a picture. And when I say quickly, I mean she was downstairs, waiting for her present! Nothing like a last-minute photoshoot!).

Three presents, three zips used, and one niece-promice fulfilled. No time to waste though as niece number two is already asking where her bag is… I have a plan… But I’ll save that for another post.

Lotus pond wash bag

Lotus pond washbag

This is the first zip I ever sewed. Did I pick a straight line? Of course not! Why make things easy?

The pattern is the T-Junction Washbag from ‘Sew! Cath Kidston’. It’s a pretty straight-forward pattern for the most part, and I really like how it turned out. The bag actually looks quite sharp in reality, but as I’ve been using it for a year or two and didn’t bother to iron it again before taking photos (bad plan!), it looks a bit dishevelled here. I like to call that look “loved”. The fabric is an Amy Butler – Lotus Pond in ivory/grey, from her Lotus line. I thought it’d make a fairly gender-neutral wash bag that my husband would be happy to use, and it did – mainly because he doesn’t really notice things like fabric choice, or even *gasp* recognise Amy Butler fabric when he sees it (shakes head in dismay). 

Actually, the zip wasn’t too hard – but I did have other issues. Perhaps it was just me having very little patience at the time (being heavily pregnant with the Smidge), but I found sewing the bias binding onto the inside edges after constructing the bag really tricky. If I make this again, I’d definitely try binding the edges beforehand.

Lotus Pond washbag collage

The other difficulty I had is that the pattern doesn’t tell you how large to make the t-junction seam. There is a little diagram in the book showing the un-sewn bag with little squares cut out of the bottom corners, but there are no instructions or cutting lines on the pattern pieces for these squares, so perhaps if that step had been included, all would have been clear? As it was, I took a guess, and guessed wrong first time, so ended up with a very tall, thin bag! After some head-scratching I sewed another seam on top, and it worked! That’s actually one of the nicest things about sewing bags: they don’t have to fit anybody, so you can make a lot of mistakes and usually call it good.

Lotus pond washbag tear

If I made this pattern again, I’d use a stronger lining fabric. I used a non-woven shower curtain fabric and it’s not very tough – I think a stray razor blade nicked the inside and caught the exterior fabric too, making a little hole. And because there’s nothing exciting about darning, there the hole has stayed. But the bag does get a lot of use, and I do love the fabric, so perhaps I’ll mend it someday… You know, when I have nothing better to do…

First skirt

Velvet skirt garden

This skirt is the first thing I ever sewed for my children (well, ‘child’ singular, as it was back then – does that feel like a long time ago now!). I was pregnant, and I think nesting instinct kicked in as a kind of mega sewing drive! With a desperation born of knowing that I’d be doing no sewing at all once baby was born, I enrolled on a sewing course with a friend (that I never finished as I got too big and uncomfortable) and zipped my way through as many projects as I could, beginning with the standard cushion that we all made, and working my way through a wash bag and these baby booties to end up staring at the luscious photos in Emma Hardy’s ‘Making Children’s Clothes’.

I think I’ve mentioned before how smitten I am with this book. The photography and fabrics lure me in each time and, despite some small difficulties with the instructions and the fact that the sizing runs a little large, I’m still a fan. The Corduroy Skirt project is easy enough for a beginner, and is cute and pretty with its ribbon bow and dainty pocket. I’d make the pocket bigger next time though, as it’s too small for the kinds of things kids normally want to (mis)appropriate. Like, say, toy trains. (Yes, that’s the Bee trying very hard to put her beloved Puffer Pete in there. Ooh she looks young – look at those chubby cheeks!).

Velvet skirt pocket

I couldn’t quite figure out when to sew the bottom of the skirt up into a hem (steps 7 & 8) – looking back, I think sewing the ribbon on in step 8 is supposed to catch the back of the flowery fabric, but that’s too many layers to go wrong for me! I just sewed the hem at the end of step 7, and then used the ribbon to hide the sewing line – same result, just less fiddly! I used a raspberry velvet I found in Ikea, and although it shed pink fluff everywhere while sewing, it’s lasted quite well. There are a few bald patches starting to appear where the waistband is gathered – but they don’t look that bad, really.

That’s been the one upside to the projects in this book coming out so large: they sure do last a loooong time! This skirt has been worn by the Bee for more than two years, with just one letting out of the elastic. That’s time for a *lot* of ice-cream…

Velvet skirt ice cream

More shorts!

Flowery shorts jumping

So I fulfilled my promise of some bigger shorts for the Bee, and because it’s summer now (right?!) we tested them out at the beach. It’s the Dana Made KID shorts pattern, flat front version again, and the size 7 fits her better – although I still think they’re not quite high enough at the back so perhaps I should’ve made the size 8. They didn’t fall down though, despite some intensive running, jumping, splashing and roller skating.

Flowery shorts and skates copy

Who else remembers Fisher-Price skates like these?! So old skool cool!

And then: Oliver + S released their new, free, Sunny Day Shorts pattern! I must have been in some kind of shorts zone (if there is such a thing?), as I immediately made some up for the Bee in a size 6. This is also a really excellent pattern – it’s easy to make, well explained (as all Oliver + S patterns are), and it fitted really well. Did I also mention it’s free? The only thing I’d do differently next time is to sew the ribbon tag in a little earlier: the instructions call for this in step 8 right at the end, but because you sew the waistband to the inside of the shorts first, then fold and sew it to the outside, there’s nowhere to tuck it in by that stage. Another time I’ll try sewing it in step 3, when attaching the waistband to the shorts. But that’s such a minor detail because you won’t find a better free tutorial than this one.

Spotty sunny day shorts 6

So the million dollar (well, $8) question is, would I make/buy the KID shorts pattern again, now that there’s such a great free pattern available? Yes! Why? Two reasons: firstly, it’s a little easier – if you’re looking for a quick project, the KID shorts don’t have a separate waistband to cut and sew. Secondly, there are so many great variations that you get with the KID shorts: flat front, retro racer shorts, pockets (front and back), bias trim and piping tutorials, nappy-friendly baby sizes… If you’re a beginner looking for a simple pattern to try, or an experienced sewer who knows how to change up the pattern, the Oliver + S Sunny Day Shorts are for you. If you want a great value pattern with a huge pick ‘n’ mix of styles, or to learn some new techniques, go for the KID shorts. Either way, you won’t regret it!

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The funny thing is, I made both these two pairs out of fabric I wasn’t wild on, as I wasn’t sure either of them would fit. It’s nice to be proved wrong though, and on further reflection, I actually like these prints as shorts – they’re kind of sweet. And the Bee now has two very wearable pairs of shorts for the summer, should it ever choose to arrive…

Firefly fiesta skirt

*Firefly fiesta skirt 1 copy 2

This fabric. I agonised for so long over it. It’s called Summer Night Lights (from the delightful Wee Wander collection by Sarah Jane), and I adore the jewel-brightness of it, and its whimsicalness, like an illustration from a children’s book. And those fireflies! There’s something quite magical about them. It’s so perfect for small children, and yet… Its intensity made it difficult to know what to actually use it for! So I did the only thing I could think of: I bought far more of it than I needed, and then let it sit in my sewing corner, marinating in ideas, for months.

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A couple of weeks ago I pulled it out again and decided to make a decision! I eventually settled on the free Oliver + S Popover Sundress pattern, and even cut out my matching bias tape, but then I hesitated, unsure… And at last resorted to my favourite activity in times like this (oh alright, my favourite activity full stop): web “research” (better known to my husband as “worrying the web” 😉 )

Several happy minutes hours later I emerged with a plan: this skirt caught my eye on the beautiful Stitched Together blog, and from there I found my way to the Dana Made Fiesta Skirt tutorial. Something about its flamboyance seemed to match the exuberance of the fabric, and I was sold!

As The Bee has been showing a recent interest in sewing, I let her help mark and cut out the skirt (although as her cutting was somewhat less than precise, so she soon got relegated to drawing chalk lines again!). She also really enjoyed using the sewing machine’s “footer” while I fed the side seams through the machine – she called it “presser-ing”, and danced about behind me as I pinned, begging to do some more! We made some pretty close-to-straight seams, considering the speed we were going at!

The tutorial was really easy to follow, and – I never thought I’d say this – the skirt was easy to make! I wanted to make a really full, twirly skirt so I chose to cut four times the waist measurement, in two pieces. The resulting length of fabric made me gasp: almost 2.5m long! Yowzers! That’s *a lot* of fabric for a child’s skirt!

It was totally worth it though: just look how great this skirt is for dancing in! (Holding an egg, of course. As you do, if you’re 4 and on a picnic.)

*Firefly fiesta skirt dancing

I really love how this skirt turned out. There’s something about it that just makes me smile! Although I was worried about so much gathering at the waistline, I think it makes quite a nice feature (don’t look too closely! I haven’t evened it out). I also love the way the plain t-shirt balances out the firefly fabric and prevents it being overwhelming – I think they’re a good match.

Firefly fiesta skirt road

Turns out, the skirt is also a pretty good match for the train station benches round here. 🙂

*Firefly fiesta skirt 3

Strawberry shorts

Strawberry shorts 4 v4

The girls are growing fast. And that means new clothes. Yay!

With the weather warming up, I purchased the Dana Made KID shorts pattern, picked out some mid-weight Cath Kidston strawberry fabric, and measured up those lovely pudgy waists. The Bee, age 4, measured an age 7-8 in this pattern. The Smidge, just turned 2, measured size 6! Either I have large girls, or the pattern runs a little small – a bit of both, I suspect.

Either way, I loved making these shorts. The downloadable PDF was easy to use, and although it was a bit strange having to log onto the website to use the instructions there (I think I’ll print them out next time), they came together really easily. I chose to make the flat front version in size 6, secretly confident that – despite measurements – they would fit The Bee.

They didn’t.

Strawberry shorts 8 v2

But just as the measurement chart predicted, they did fit The Smidge! So she romped around the park in them this afternoon, playing Poohsticks and rolling down hills getting them lovely and muddy. Toddler bliss!

I really liked the simplicity of this pattern, and love the way the shorts turned out. I might make them a bit shorter next time: after all, she’s still toddler height, even if she’s wearing a size 6 because of that lovely baby belly! The only real downside was having to swap back and forth between two different tutorials on the website, as the flat front instructions refer you to the basic instructions in a couple of places: it would have been easier to have all the instructions for each version in one place. It was still pretty easy to follow though, and I will definitely make these again. Speaking of which… The Bee was most disappointed that these ones didn’t fit her, so I have promised to make her a pair of her own in a larger size. I’d best get to it then!

Some baby presents: pirate booties and a tortoise taggie

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A good old friend of mine used to have this giant stuffed toy tortoise called Fred, who was loved all the way through childhood and into adulthood. When my friend, now married and with a darling new baby boy, posted her first baby pics on Facebook, sure enough – there was Fred, still propping her up as a trusty pillow! Without further ado, I tracked down this lovely fabric covered in Freds (‘Turtle Parade’ by Patty Sloniger for Michael Miller) and made a taggie blanket, backed with a soft white muslin and with an extra layer of white cotton inbetween. The ribbons were a mixed bunch of what I had already – mostly grosgrain (which I heat sealed to prevent fraying) and a few random silky and cotton ones thrown in (my favourite is the blue one that says ‘tiny hands and tiny feet’ – so sweet). I double topstitched it to make sure it withstood the intense washing anything baby-related tends to need. I hope he (or at least, his mother!) likes it!

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For another friend, expecting at about the same we were expecting The Smidge, I attempted Amy Butler’s Cutie Booties from her ‘Little Stitches for Little Ones’ book of baby patterns. Now, since this friend had been dropping plenty of hints that baby might just be a boy, I felt pretty confident in picking out a pirate fabric and coordinating check (Pirate Flags and Pirate Grid from the Monkey’s Bizness collection by Alexander Henry). I then wrestled my way through the 0-3m size of the pattern while I was on holiday, including more hand sewing than I usually care to do and another barrage of bristly pins (see my kimono shoes!), and finally ended up with these little gems (photos taken hastily in the five minutes I had before dashing out to the hospital to meet her and her new arrival!):

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I love the style of these, and the velcro opening is clever and satisfying:

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The main hiccup I had with sewing these had nothing do do with the sewing! About a week before the due date, and with the well-named cutie booties ready and waiting, my friend’s daughter started talking about the imminent arrival as a “she”…! Now, there is nothing at all amiss with giving pirate booties to a little girl, but they are not *exactly* a match for the tidal wave of pink that tends to accompany the arrival of most baby girls. 😛 Happily for me it was a false alarm, and baby (boy) sported his pirate apparel with aplomb that spring. Phew!!

 

Kimono slipper shoes

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When I first saw this Kimono Shoes pattern from iThinkSew, I fell head over heels in love. Shoes? That I can MAKE? That are completely adorable? Where do I sign?! I bought the pattern and determined to make them RIGHT AWAY. But I was quickly sidetracked by making some (equally cute) baby shoes for a friend’s imminent arrival, and then pretty quickly after that, our own little Smidge was born. Needless to say, a year on, these little beauties still hadn’t moved off their pattern pages. So while we were packing for our family holiday in Pembrokeshire, I decided to pack my project – sewing machine and all! – and partake of a little vacation sewing!

I just so happened to have some of the same fabric that the shoes on the sewing pattern cover are made of (Amy Butler’s ‘memento’), so I couldn’t resist using it for my shoes, although I lined mine in pink. The pattern itself was simple and clear, but I’ll admit it was a bit daunting to have to cut 20 pieces of fabric for what seemed like such a small project. Attaching the uppers to the soles was a bit fiddly as the whole shoe bristles with pins: imagine a small and uncooperative hedgehog and you won’t be far off. I also struggled to get the insoles to fit properly, and had to make do with “oh well it’s hidden inside so no-one will notice it’s not a very good fit”…

To my surprise, the shoes actually fitted! (Note: my surprise was due to my inadequate sewing abilities, not the pattern.) The only thing I’d change is to sew the insoles in somehow: they keep slipping up to the side when I wear them, which is frustrating, but I can’t think how to secure them without sewing through the outer sole. Although perhaps there isn’t a problem with that. Maybe glue? So for now, they are sadly relegated to the bottom of my wardrobe, where I gaze at them wistfully from time to time. Because even if they’re not wholly functional, they are rather beautiful, aren’t they? And if ever I figure a way of making those unruly insoles behave, I’ll be making a whole lot more of them.

Kimono slippers 1

Oh, and I almost forgot! Bee’s favourite holiday story has been the one from Alfie and Annie-Rose where Alfie adopts a favourite stone, names it (“Bonting”) and then loses it at the beach. Well, Bee wanted some clothes for her very own Bonting – so here they are! With spare swimming costume and towel, naturally.

Bonting's costumes

Schooliform dress #1

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So first up: a confession. I wasn’t planning on making this dress at all. I’d bought the pattern and even cut all the pieces out for the stunning Oliver and S Library Dress, but then lost my nerve and decided to make this one first as it looked so much easier. It’s the Pinafore Dress from Emma Hardy’s ‘Making Clothes for Children’, and it is indeed an easy make. (Don’t worry: I’ll make the Library Dress later, once I’m feeling more courageous!).

The main dress came together easily, and the button flowers were simple to make, although a bit time-consuming as there’s a bit of hand sewing involved. They’re a bit wobbly because I rushed them – the silk ribbon stalks were only pinned in a couple of places so they slid sideways while I sewed them (schoolgirl error!) so now they look a bit wonky. I’d also carefully picked one plain and two subtly patterned fabrics for the flower yoyos, but it turns out they’re so subtle, you can’t see them. Hey-ho. Other than that, I think they look rather cute!

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Bee’s school uniform is supposed to be grey, with a white shirt and red jumper. I was quite good with the outer side and only added few cheeky pink and lilac buttons… But when it came to the lining, I couldn’t help myself and rebelled with coral pink and fuchsia spots. Who’s going to know? Shhhhh…. 😉

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The fit is the only thing I’m a bit disappointed with. The bodice is waaay too wide for her, and has all the style of an oversized pillowcase, despite her measurements being almost exactly those given for her size in the book. I should have been more cautious after the Party Dress (from the same book) came up so large. Note to self: that measuring and alteration thing people often talk about *might just* be a good idea next time…

Schooliform 1 collage

(Yes, she is wearing her shoes on the wrong feet. Oh well – shoes never stay on that long round here anyway!)