Sewing with lace fabric

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Lace is such a dreamy fabric and with the summer just around the corner we’re going to see more and more of it in the next few months. It never goes out of fashion and is so versatile. Of course if you’re a brushing bride-to-be then lace is probably on very much on your mind right now.

There are lots of different types of lace with wide ranging price tags. You can get poly lace from as little as £5 per metre which is great for day to day wear or smaller items. Or  expect to pay £300 plus per metre for the best top quality lace – great for those very special occasions.

Like a lot of specialty fabric, lace is a little trickier to handle than say cotton, but armed with a bit of knowledge, everyone can enjoy this lovely treat.

There are lots of different types of lace, here are the most popular of 2016:

Chantilly Lace – a heavily corded lace, often used in bridal wear. It is on tulle, if often beaded and as an ornate edge. Most commonly comes in black, white and ivory


Alencon Lace – this all over lace has a design incorporated into a tulle background and it may or may not have a decorative border. It’s an easy lace to work with and comes in lots of colours


Guipure Lace – a heavily embroidered lace with no tulle backing, but open spaces. This lace is really in fashion at the moment and also comes in lots of colours


Cutting Lace

The pattern on lace runs across the fabric, selvedge to selvedge and because the selvedge is often also a decorative border, it needs to be cut with the grain line at 90 degrees to the selvedge (or border).

Use the border as the finished hem of the garment if you can as that will look fab. But if you are making a garment when this just won’t work (a circular skirt for instance) then the border can be cut off and sewn back on later. It’s worth taking a good look at the pattern on the lace before you cut and cut in a single layer to make sure you have the pattern where you want it to be – avoiding large motifs on the bust or bottom for instance. It’s also just a lot easier to cut single as it can move quite a bit when it’s folded double, even when you’ve pinned it.


Darts can be sewn just like regular darts. If you’re making darts in the lace only, to reduce the bulk and make it look a little tidier, sew another row of stitches 3mm away from the first and trim off the surplus fabric.


Sewing seams

If you decide to mount your lace onto another fabric, such as silk or even cotton, then the two fabrics can be treated as one with no special requirements.

If you want to have the illusion of lace you may need to be a bit more careful. When sewing a seam just in the lace, if you’re working with lace with tulle backing your machine may be OK with stitching through the lace. Make a regular plain seam and then gently press open using a pressing cloth – it will be hardly visible. But, the tricky bit is stopping the lace from disappearing down your feed dogs. To help with this, start on a piece of freezer paper, or stitch and tear paper and run the lace on to it. You can then tear the paper away without any damage.

Seams on Guipure Lace can be more troublesome as the seam won’t blend too easily when stitched. A good option is to sew the seam as usual then wrap bias binding around the seams – satin or poly-cotton. Although it will be visible through the holes, if you choose the right colour it will blend in nicely and make a very strong seam too.




Sewing the Tilly and the Buttons Orla

Monday, April 4th, 2016

I love Tilly and the Buttons’ patterns. Inspiring designs, clear and easy to follow instructions and more help online if you need it. What’s not to like as they say.

So I was very excited to get started on my Tilly and the Buttons Orla shirt. Well I call it a shirt but it’s in fact a top, which can either be long or short sleeved and made with or without a snowdrop collar. I went for the long sleeved version and the collar too in a plain brown viscose as I wanted something to showcase some of the subtle design features, which I’m not sure a patterned fabric would do quite so well. This top suits fabrics that drape nicely so cotton lawn or silk or crepe-backed satin would have done a good job too.

This is a semi-fitted top with curved French darts at the front for shape and shoulder darts at the back to give a good fit. I really like the little pleat at the shoulders. The hemline is gently curved and finished with a facing, a technique I don’t tend to use too often so I was keen to see how this one worked out.

Tilly’s patterns aren’t sized in the regular way – instead she has sizes one to eight so it’s imperative that you measure yourself carefully to choose the right one. Get some help with this if you can cos measuring yourself accurately isn’t always the easiest thing to do. She makes it very clear what size will fit which measurements so don’t be worried about this. If your measurements land between sizes always go for the bigger one.

Out of all the Tilly patterns I’ve used so far (which I think is them all now) I would say, for inexperienced sewists, this one could possibly be the most challenging. I’m not saying it’s overly hard because it’s not. But it just has more techniques to get to grips with. I think the two things that need a bit of experience to complete are the collar and the exposed zip. The collar needs a bit of precision sewing to get the curves equal (drawing in the sewing line will help with this) and the technique used for the exposed zip is possibly one that could be a little tricky for some. When I make this again I’ll probably try a different way to do the zip. The facing on the hemline gives a nice finish but I’m not sure it works as well as it could on the viscose as I think it just makes the hem a little more visible when wearing it. Also I chose not to draw the sewing line for the collar and consequently, it’s not quite right. I have to admit to sewing this is a hurry too, so it’s not my best make – sorry Tilly! Must try harder.

I would highly recommend trying this pattern and it’s such a versatile garment. If you’re not massively experienced, just take your time and read the instructions carefully. As always, Tilly has online instructions too so head to her website if you need a little bit of extra help.

I’m looking forward to making another – going to try patterned lightweight cotton this time and might even try one of these fancy zips too (see pic). They look pretty and are easy to sew as they sit on the outside of the garment – a different kind of exposed zip.

Have fun everyone.




Workshops by numbers

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Years ago I read a book called ‘Men are from Venus, women are from Mars’ all about how as much as we need each other because we are so, so different. A case in point…we were finishing off the list of workshops for the coming couple of months and while I was getting all excited about the projects and our lovely participants, Mr Sassy, a former scientist, was getting excited about the numbers. We have, apparently run 62 workshops in the last 17 months, attended by 290 people, making everything from simple quilt panels to complicated skirts, shirts and dresses.

In all that time Mr Sassy reckons we’ve consumed almost 500 biscuits, 127 cakes and 64 gallons of tea. When he also added that he must have picked up at least 1000 pins off the floor when cleaning up afterwards I began to question the accuracy of his numbers.

Anyway, it keeps him quiet. The new workshop list is ready (you can find it here on the website), places are filling up and we have another hundred-weight of pins on order just in case. I wonder how much the return ticket to Venus will be?


Love vintage? You’ll love these patterns

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

If you, like us seem to be spending more and more time in vintage shops, then you, like us, probably also spend more and more time wondering how the heck all those strapping 50s housewives ever managed to get into those teeny, tiny dresses. Half my wardrobe is taken up with beautiful things that I’ll be ‘slimming into’ any day now.

Mr Sassy points out that the answer back then was probably some tortuous girdle and strong medication. He’s probably right and, even if they still sold them (the girdles that is), you’ll never get me into one.
Thankfully, we have a solution. These cool new patterns from an artisan English designer on the south coast blend vintage style with modern sizes. Sew La-di-da is a new company making some gorgeous designs and the patterns themselves are works of art. Beautifully packaged, substantially made (so they’ll last for ages) and there’s a selection of lovely garments to choose from.
We’ve just had our first batch come in along with some lovely new retro-style fabrics. I doubt they’ll be here too long. We have five different designs to choose from and each are £16.50p. Pictures of two of the designs below. Divine!



Needle anguish and machines shaken not stirred!

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

Oh for pity’s sake, not again. In the 12 months since getting my scooper-dooper computerised Brother sewing machine I must have dropped a needle into the works at least four times. When it first happened I panicked. Couldn’t see it, couldn’t get it with a magnetised pin (clever trick that, can’t remember where I got it from), couldn’t face lunch knowing it was still in there.
Mr Sassy had a simple fix…he sent me out of the room, picked up the machine and turned it upside down and shook it till the needle came out (he’s a drummer, he doesn’t know any better).
Anyway, since then I’ve always placed some fabric underneath the needle to stop it dropping in to the holes where the feed dogs sit, apart from the times when I forget. Today I did the fabric thing and then realised I’d put the wrong needle in.  I gaily unscrewed it to change it for a thinner one and dropped it before I remembered to put the fabric back. Cue a big, Sassy strop, cue also Mr Sassy and his patented upside down shake.
Anyone else have the same problem? ( the needles I mean, not the drummer thing).



All about interfacing

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

When to use interfacing

Need some extra stiffness in your garments? Interfacing is probably the answer. Whether it’s giving some strength to a buttonhole, reinforcing your jersey fabric to help keep its shape or adding stiffness to a collar, adding a little interfacing will always do the job. It can also be used to retain your garment’s shape if you don’t want to add weight or stiffness. Any fabric cut on the bias can stretch a little when you sew it, but adding a little interfacing helps give some definition.

How to choose interfacing

There are two main types; fusible and non-fusible. Fusible interfacing is applied using an iron to the ‘wrong’ side of the fabric, whereas non-fusible is sewn into heat-sensitive fabrics that can’t be ironed or fabrics with a loose weave where the adhesive in fusible interfacing would weep through to the other side.

Once you’ve decided on the type you then need to choose between woven, non-woven or knit interfacing. Non-woven is the most popular because it has no grain. Woven interfacing has a grain – similar to fabric – and so the interfacing should be cut according to the grain in line with the fabric. Knit interfacing has some built-in stretch and is used for interfacing knits and jersey fabrics.

The final decision is the interfacing weight. There are three choices; light, medium and heavyweight. The simple rule is that weight of the interfacing should be roughly equal to, or a bit lighter than, the fabric.

Working with fusible interfacing – easy peasy

Put your fabric on an ironing board with the right side facing down.

Place the fusible side of the interfacing on top of the fabric. The fusible side has a roughness to it, while the non-fusible side is smooth.

Put a damp cloth onto the interfacing (otherwise you’ll end up with the interfacing stuck to your iron) and then place a hot iron on it for 10-15 seconds (depending on the weight of your fabric). Don’t move the iron on the fabric or you’ll end up with a glue-ey mess.If your interfacing is bigger than the iron plate, lift up the iron and apply it to the rest of the interfacing separately.

Know this:

  • Adding an extra cloth underneath the fabric protects your ironing board cover should the interfacing move.
  • If you do get interfacing on your iron unplug it and allow to cool. You should be able to peel off most of the interfacing.

Inferfacing pic

inferfacing pic 2

Our pattern drafting workshop

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Last Sunday at Sassy Sewing, a gaggle of keen sewists and instructor, fashion designer and seamstress Kate Pinfold huddled over calculators, paper, rulers, measuring tapes, calico and a whole host of other essentials. This weekend we were pattern drafting for a woman’s shirt. Pattern drafting is the art of making a pattern from your own measurements – so it’s as good a fit as a pattern can ever be. Once you’ve got your basic pattern, you can then go on to design whatever shirt you want – even a Vivien Westwood copy if that’s your thing. It’s very addictive because it’s just so fabulous being able to design something from scratch. Now I love commercial patterns too, don’t get me wrong but pattern drafting is so exciting. Your design may start out as one idea, then a tweak and a twiddle here and there and your finished garment may be quite different to what you had in mind – it’s a very  creative process. All our workshop attendees went away with a pattern for a long sleeved shirt with front and back yokes with gathers at the yokes. Some had fashioned a collar with a neck stand (one or two very pointy collars amongst them) with a Peter Pan collar being an option for others. We learnt so much on this workshop but here are six things that stick in my mind the  most:

1 When drawing a curved line, its easier and more accurate to draw it in such a way that you are pulling the curve towards you, not pushing it away.

2 When making a shirt from your own pattern, ditch the usual 1.5 cm seam and use a 1cm one instead – less is more to avoid bulk.

3 When marking the right spot for your bust darts, remember it needs to point upwards towards the middle of your bust not downwards. It’s much more flattering this way and will make you look perkier than you are if you need that kind of help (many do).

4 It’s great to be excited by pattern drafting, but there are maths involved so be prepared to concentrate. My first attempt at a collar looked like something made especially for one of the Bagpuss mice!

5 The measuring tool called a pattern master is a very useful investment

6 Winifred Aldrich is the goddess of pattern drafting and her book Metric Pattern Cutting is a must have if you really want to get serious about this. Yes the illustrations look like something out of the fifties, but the advice is invaluable. It’s an oldie but a goodie – available from Amazon.

Here are some shots of the day. We were a messy lot!







Choosing wool fabric and pre-shrinking

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

Well true winter has finally arrived and it feels, well positively cold outside and this can mean only one thing. It’s time to get the wool fabrics out to make those winter essentials we all need. A lined winter skirt in my case. Although I do fancy a winter cape as well. One thing at a time Julie, one thing at a time!

Wool is one of my favourite fabrics – it’s natural, breathable, easy to work with and doesn’t crease (result). There are a number of different wool fabrics on offer in most sewing shops and it can sometimes be a bit confusing to match the right one to your intended project. So to help, here are five of the most popular and what they are most commonly used for.


Wool coating:

This is a heavy weight fabric, which creates lots of structure so choose your project accordingly – if you’re after making a drapey skirt, this won’t do at all. It can be difficult to press the seams open as coating doesn’t respond to pressing too well, so bear this in mind. You may want to work with a smaller seam allowance to help with this.

Wool challis:

This is a lightweight wool which drapes nicely but frays easily. When you sew with challis it can help to think of it as a sheer fabric, using the same techniques as you would for those lovely chiffons and georgettes.

Wool flannel

Flannel is a durable fabric and is mostly used to make suits although it’s also a good fabric for soft jackets and skirts. It’s not itchy like some wools can be, so it isn’t always necessary to line it.

Wool boucle

This is a textured, mostly heavyweight fabric, which is good for lots of projects and particularly winter coats. It can unravel quite a bit when sewing so take care and try not to get frustrated with it – the result will be worth it. When using boucle its’s usual to use a lining too.

Wool crepe

This is a great wool to work with and it has lots of texture and drape. It’s ideal for lightweight projects and is easy to handle.

Pre-shrinking your wool

Most wool fabrics will shrink when washed (if washable) or cleaned so it’s advisable (well vital to be honest) to pre-shrink it, for which there is a simple technique. And that’s steaming and it’s something you can easily do at home – it just takes a bit of time and patience.

Use a table or an ironing board, preferably with a cotton cloth or ironing board cover as this takes up the steam pretty well.

Open out your wool to single layer and lay on the flat surface. Take a steam iron and set it to wool, which is usually the last setting before you lose the steam. Using a sprayer, spray the area of wool on the board with water. Now it’s time to dry it. Some people hover the iron just an inch or so above the wool and move it backwards and forwards across the piece but I actually prefer to put the iron on the fabric and dry it directly. Be gentle though, you don’t need to press, particularly on textured wool – you’re just gliding the iron from one side to the other. On some wools you’ll actually see the shrinkage happen, but you may not, so just keep going anyway. Wait until the patch of fabric is dry before you move it as pulling it across the board to start on the next part could stretch it out of shape if it isn’t dry. I told you you’d need some patience! But it’s worth it as good quality wool fabric can be expensive and it would be a real shame to ruin your newly constructed garment when it shrinks on the first clean. After steaming I usually leave the fabric for a day or so before using just to make sure it’s fully dry.

My biggest piece of advice is not to let the pre-shrinking routine put you off sewing with wool. It really is a fabulous fabric to work with and it’s worth just that little bit of effort to get the fantastic results available to you.


Wool 2

Buy a skirt. Noooo – make one instead!

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

I saw this lovely, eye catching skirt on a London boutique’s website and fell in love instantly. I liked the simple look of the skirt, the way the plain yellow colour really popped and most of all the unusual shape. I had to have it! Problem is, so did everyone else and my size was just never in stock.

Skirt 2

What followed was a few months of disappointed website watching then it came to me – there was only one thing for it, I was just going to have to make my very own version. I love pattern drafting my own clothes although I must admit sometimes I have no idea where to start! But that’s the beauty of this skill. It’s all about having a vision, playing with shapes and doing a spot of engineering to pull the perfect garment out of the bag. It’s so liberating to design something from scratch, just exactly as you want it to be. And because you’re not constrained by a commercial pattern, you can change your mind half way through the design and end up with something you really weren’t expecting to get. Which is very exciting.

This skirt started with my normal skirt block, which I traced around on to spot and cross paper. The paper was then slashed and flared out to ensure the skirt would be wide enough to allow for the folds. It made for a very unusual pattern. Yes this picture is the right way up!

Draft pattern

I choose a plain purple medium weight cotton for the job and used the same fabric in a light green to line it. Now some would say these are two quite unusual colours to put together. But I was pleased with the result and if I get bored of the purple, it wouldn’t take much to reverse it so the green is on the outside.

PD skirt

This really was not a hard skirt to make – took about four hours including making the pattern, which of course I can now use again. It made me glad that I didn’t pay the boutique for one when it’s such a simple skirt.

Mine doesn’t look exactly the same I know, but I’m very pleased with the result and like the added touch of the buttons at the ends of the wraparound pieces. I promise, it does hang gorgeously when it’s on – the mannequin doesn’t do it justice.


New year, new projects

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

Ok, so here’s what’s going to happen in Corrie/Eastenders/Emmerdale this year. The three people who you would never expect to have an affair will all have one with three others who you would. Two of your favourite characters will also finally get together and then fall apart when one of them has a drunken one-night-stand. Two key families will fall out, someone will battle against a horrific illness, there will be at least three implausible pantomime-type villains threatening to cause mayhem unless £20k is forthcoming (it’s always £20k) and, one of the previous villains who you thought you’d seen the last of will return to cause more of the same.

Right, now that’s done we can all agree that soaps are like a time-Hoover that only serve to make us think life is more miserable than it actually is and take away valuable sewing time. So this year, I’m swapping badly-scripted Meerkat-sponsored misery for sewing-related inspiration. The plan is to use the time formerly spent on the sofa in front of my machine with some uplifting soul music blasting through the speakers instead.

Apologies for a lack of blogging over the last few months. Having a few ancient injuries put to rights gave me some alternate priorities, but now, I’m back with a soul-powered whimper, if not quite a bang.

Simple, skinny jeans


Is it just me who’s fallen out of love with shop bought jeans or is it that the shops have dropped the denim ball in the last few years? I’m not sure why but I can’t remember the last time I even looked at a pair in a shop, never mind actually bought some.

Truth is it’s probably because they never quite seem to fit like I’d hope them to considering the price.

So, I’m going to try something different – making my own using a lovely pattern from Sew Liberated. They look adorable and the pattern is particularly simple to put together. I’m hoping this could be the start of something.

Do-anything dress


You know that feeling when you’ve been in a job for just long enough that everyone is, er, used to your eccentricities? Finally, that time when you can stop wearing the anonymous stuff that no one notices and allow yourself to start turning up in the stuff that really says ‘Coo-ee, this is me’.

I’m just about there right now with my full time job and I’m hoping that this little number, the Brynna dress – also from Sew Liberated, made in the right fabric will be the stepping stone between the two worlds. Sort-of still conservative enough to not raise too many eyebrows, but with the potential to make an impact too (especially with the right combo of spangly tights and ‘look-at-my’ shoes).

All I need to do now is choose the right fabric to make it work. I’m going to start off with something subtle and simple – not too much pattern matching – until I’ve made it once and  got the fit sorted. And then, it’ll be time for the fireworks.

These Sew Liberated patterns have great instructions with them and even more fabulous is the online tutorials that accompany them. You get a code with each pattern which allows you access for as long as you need it. I’ll let you know how I get on.

A very useful sewing site

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Here it's not just about 'how to' but also 'why not?' We're not experts, more like curious enthusiasts and this is the place where we can all learn to be successful at sewing together. Helpful (hopefully), inspiring (ditto) and we promise not to take ourselves too seriously. Let's put some fun into fabric.

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