Consolidation

A compilation of sewing projects in 2017

This week, my aim was to consolidate all of the basic sewing skills I have very recently acquired in my sewing adventure. This is particularly important, as I want to make my first attempt at sewing a dress next week. In order to adequately consolidate my skills, I set myself the task of making more of the items that I had made during my previous 3 weeks of sewing. I have been helped along by the fact that Mothers’ Day is fast approaching (26th March for us UK folk).

From my previously completed projects, I would be giving my mum and my fiancé’s nanny a few of my previously completed projects. All I had left to make were 2 cushion covers for my mother-in-law (to be). I have also made the decision to start an Etsy shop, in order to sell some of the accessories I have started to make.

I have various items that I would like to eventually start to sell, however zipper pouches are the first items on which I want to concentrate. This meant making more zipper pouches in order to practice improving upon their quality. I particularly like working with the PVC coated cotton but wanted to practise working with this material much more. Keeping my sewing goals at the forefront of my mind, my list of chosen projects was: 2 cushion covers and 5 zipper pouches.

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Zipper pouch collection

With my consolidation plan decided, I anticipated that I would complete an item a day, spanning across the entire week. This did not happen (many are the plans of a person’s heart) but I’ll save the reason why for my next post. What actually happened is that I took a break from the sewing machine for 4 days, then had the bright idea of challenging myself to complete all 7 items over the space of one evening/night.

I currently suffer from insomnia, a side effect from the work-related stress I sustained in my previous job, and thought it best to turn this weakness into a creative strength. I started my first zipper pouch at 17:30 on Friday evening (GMT) and finished my last cushion at 02:00 on Saturday morning (GMT). Every single item was completed within this time. In hindsight, this was a very ambitious task for a newbie sewist, however it was during this time sewing that I had my ‘EUREKA’ moment.

I cannot explain exactly what happened, except to say that everything suddenly clicked. I knew which steps to undertake next without the aid of a video tutorial, having continuously stumbled on this particular skill in previous projects. I finally began to understand why things had to be completed in a particular order or in a particular way. I noticed that my understanding of the fabrics I was using had greatly improved. I was cutting the fabric much better and working more efficiently, which meant that I was working much quicker. It felt amazing! I only used the seam ripper three times, a feat I still cannot quite believe that I achieved.

I encountered a few problems along the way, but they were minor and I was able to change my technique in order to accommodate for these issues, yet achieve the overall effect for the particular item. In the 4 days that I spent away from the sewing machine, I must have given my brain the time to properly process the new skills that I have been learning, therefore enabling me to effectively put them into practice when they were next called upon. Not only am I absolutely thrilled that the very basic sewing skills are no longer incredibly difficult for me to achieve, this situation has taught me a very important lesson: to take my time, because everything happens in good time.

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All in a night’s work
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Cushion close-up

Up until this week, I had been sewing practically every single day, eager to ensure that I rapidly improved upon my skills, pushing myself to learn a new skill with each new project. While this has been beneficial to my learning, in hindsight, there were a few key moments when I really should have taken at least a few days break from the sewing machine to give myself the time and space to fully take in what I had learned so far. Thankfully, this week I realised the need to take a break and ensured that I stayed away from the sewing machine. Instead, I read chapters in my sewing books that provided more in-depth knowledge of the basic sewing skills that I have been practising. I also rested.

Resting is equally as important as being busy and I never appreciated just how involved with sewing I have been, until I stepped away from it. The short break has done me the world of good and led to the creation of 7 items of a far superior quality than I have previously been able to achieve. I am absolutely elated and I cannot wait to see where my sewing will lead me. I now have the much needed confidence boost to continue with sewing and also to believe that I can become an excellent sewist.

I have also received sincere and genuine feedback from the gifts that I have recently made. The feedback has been very positive, particularly regarding the professional look of these items, despite me being at the start of my sewing journey. Today, I am very proud of what I have achieved so far with my sewing and I will continue to enjoy this moment while it lasts.

Sewing: I think I might just have cracked it. From now on it’s onwards and upwards!

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Zipper pouches galore

Zip it!

My first attempt at a zipper pouch.

I finally completed the project I recently set myself: a zipper pouch. I opted to use some PVC coated cotton I recently purchased. It looks and feels as though it is relatively durable, which is exactly what is required from a zipper pouch. In order to make the zipper pouch, I followed a tutorial from ‘MADE Everyday’. This is the third tutorial from this vlogger that I have used, simply because they are really easy to follow and she has a range of projects that I am particularly interested in creating, which are suitable for beginners like myself.

This project enabled me to see that my sewing skills have really improved in a short space of time. I think this is predominantly because I am currently sewing almost every day (I have a lot of time on my hands at the moment). Plus, I make sure that each new project builds on a skill that I have previously learned, as well as teaching me a new skill.

The most challenging part of the project was working with PVC coated cotton. Sewing on the wrong side of the fabric did not pose any problems and I was able to install the zip without any issues. In hindsight, this was because the right side of the fabric was sandwiched between the silky cotton fabric I used for the lining, when I was sewing the wrong side. Had the right side of the PVC coated cotton been exposed to the feed dogs, I would have discovered the impending problem much sooner. Next, it was time to topstitch on the right side of the fabric.

I used the standard presser foot for this and immediately noticed that something was not right. The fabric would slowly go through the feed dogs then grind to an unexpected halt. I unpicked the stitches and started again but the same thing kept happening repeatedly. When I looked at the threads in the fabric I was attempting to sew, I could see that the stitches on the wrong side of the fabric were pulled up really tightly, compared to the stitches on the right side of the fabric, which were as normal. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that the tension needed adjusting. *Note to self – always check on the simplest of potential errors before rushing to fix presumed larger ones.* Thankfully, this thought came to mind before I started playing around with the tension of my sewing machine!

I tried increasing the length of the stitch, to no avail. I re-threaded the sewing machine and re-wound the bobbin but there was still no change. By this time, I was fed up and decided to pack away my project for the rest of the day. Overnight, I kept wracking my brain to try and work out where I was going wrong. The two changes I had made with this project compared to all of my previous projects was to use a different type of needle (I was sure that this was definitely not where the problem lay) and a different type of fabric.

The next morning, I woke up determined to find the solution to my sewing conundrum. I decided to Google “Working with PVC coated cotton,” to find out if anyone else had encountered similar problems to me when working with this particular type of fabric. If I could rule out the fabric as an issue, then the solution would most likely be to readjust the tension of the sewing machine, something that for me needed to be the very last resort. Lo and behold, there were blog posts galore about the difficulties of working with PVC coated cotton.

The most common suggestion was to purchase a Teflon presser foot, which would easily glide over the surface of the material without sticking to it. I went on to order one via ebay, but there would be a significant wait for it to arrive and I wanted to complete the project as soon as possible. The second suggestion was to cover a standard presser foot with scotch tape, in order to get a similar effect to the Teflon presser foot – I tried it but this technique did not consistently work for me.

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Front of zipper pouch

Unsatisfied after another unsuccessful attempt at completing the project and with frustration quickly setting in, I stepped away from the sewing machine and gave myself the rest of the day to mull things over. I set about finding my own solution to the problem. After much thought and careful consideration (to document my thought processes would require another post, so I’ll spare you…this time) the next day, I set about my mission: to successfully complete a zipper pouch!

I thought it might be a good idea to cover the right side of the material in baking paper. YES, BAKING PAPER! I sewed my topstitch to the right side of the garment and through the baking paper. The fabric went over the feed dogs with ease and the stitches on both sides were even. Once I had finished the topstitch, I carefully ripped the baking paper away from the stitches.

This method worked perfectly every single time. The baking paper was strong enough to provide a barrier between the presser foot and the sticky PVC coated cotton, yet fragile enough to enable me to tear it away, leaving the stitches intact. Using this method enabled me to finish not one, but two zipper pouches within a few hours. SEWING TIP ALERT: having issues sewing oilcloth/PVC coated fabrics and you don’t have a Teflon presser foot or scotch tape? Using baking paper works like a dream.

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Inside zipper pouch

Another con of working with PVC coated cotton is the fact that the remaining holes from unpicked stitches can be quite noticeable. I did make sure to press the wrong side of the fabric with a warm iron after unpicking seams, in order to help minimise the holes. However, this fabric can be unforgiving if constant mistakes are made. Of the 2 zipper pouches that I made, I kept one and gifted another to a relative in order to obtain some much needed feedback about the pouch’s usability and durability. My plan is to eventually start selling handmade items on Etsy – zipper pouches being a favourite of mine to make – so the more feedback I can get on my handmade items, the better.

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Back of zipper pouch

I really enjoyed completing this project, particularly independently overcoming the difficulties with using my choice of fabric. I stretched and challenged myself just enough to learn some new skills without getting too disheartened when I reached a stumbling block. Over this next week, I plan to consolidate what I have learnt so far by making more of the same items that I have completed over the past 3 weeks. My next challenge is to sew my first ever garment, so I will need to practice the basics as much as possible beforehand. For now, I will leave you with some photos of my finished zipper pouch. Until next time, happy sewing!

All Tied Up

My first attempt at making a tie.

With the pillowcases safely put to bed, I commenced my next project – a tie. I followed a tutorial from the same vlog where I found the pillowcase tutorial, ‘MADE Everyday’. The tutorial was easy to follow, however this was a bit of a trickier project from the outset because I did not have a pattern for a tie. I had to ask my fiancé for a tie he no longer liked and then proceeded to cut it apart. It was a win-win situation: I got to use the tie as a makeshift template and he got a much nicer, handmade tie as a replacement.

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The ill-fated tie

Using the tie as a template (bearing in mind that I had deconstructed a previously made tie, therefore would need to add point to the fabric, make the shape much neater, allow for seam allowances, etc) I proceeded to cut out the fabric I needed. I then pinned the fabric I had cut to the lining and used it to get an exact copy of the shapes for the front and back of the tie.

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One of the hardest parts (aside from the faff of cutting out the shapes for the tie without the use of a pattern, coupled with my shoddy cutting skills) was pinning together the front and back of the tie and sewing them together, in order to make one long, continuous length of fabric. There was a 1/4″ seam allowance and I had to get the edges together perfectly. Needless to say, unpicked my first try!

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Pinning the front and back of the tie for the lining and outer fabric

I carefully followed the instructions of the tutorial and was very happy with the finished results. Unfortunately, I made the loop on the tie too small, so it could not be used to hold the back of the tie in place. Lucky for me, my fiancé informed me that he does not bother to use the loops anyway (RESULT). I had also placed the loop too far up the tie, which meant that had it been big enough to use, it would have been impossible to do so. Shortly after taking the photograph, I cut the loop off – problem solved!

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Happy with the overall result from the first tie, I made a second tie (it turned into a skinny tie but mainly due to me making a mistake and refusing to unpick the entire length of the tie). Much like during the pillowcase project, my mistakes came thick and fast when I started making the second tie. I tried to complete the project with minimal assistance from the video (will I ever learn?!) and soon my best friend came out once again (the seam unpicker). Sigh….I HAVE learned my lesson since and I will follow tutorials, instructions and guidance relentlessly until they are firmly ingrained in my mind. Only then shall I try to sew from memory. I am blessed with the ability to somehow rectify any mistakes I make, regardless of how catastrophic, and still end up with a project that I can be proud of. I hope that this gift follows me throughout my sewing career. It is one that I am very happy to have.

The second tie turned out great and is a skinny tie to add to my fiancé’s collection. The first tie certainly got his seal of approval, as he proudly wore it to work at the beginning of this week. What a sweetheart! He made me a very happy lady that day. I must say that the other difficulty I had with the tie was turning it right-side out once completed. On the tutorial, the vlogger successfully attaches a safety pin to one end of the tie, turns the fabric on itself and pushes/threads the fabric and safety pin along the entire length of the tie.

I tried that method and failed miserably. I was also concerned about potentially ruining the fabric by using this method, so opted for a long-winded method that was much more time-consuming but worked for me. Horses for courses – I got the job done in the end. I would use this tutorial again to make other ties, which I intend to do very soon as my mum has requested one as a birthday gift for a relative. Another project all tied up. Next on my to do list is a zipper pouch.

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Everybody Needs a Pillowcase for a Pillow

My first attempt at making bedding.

Pillowcases were my next project, after finally completing the two aprons – my labour of love. I am planning to give my mum a collection of my sewing achievements as part of her Mothers’ Day present on 26th March. She is so thrilled that I have finally decided to take up sewing and is eager to see some of my projects, so I’m making an extra special effort to complete a few simple projects that I can do to the best of my abilities and make some special gifts for the special lady in my life.

So far, my mum can expect 1 cushion and 1 apron. Now there are 2 pillowcases that have been added to the collection. Making the pillowcases was the first time that I independently found a project to create, that I hadn’t already completed in a sewing class. I looked for a simple and easy to follow tutorial on YouTube and stumbled across the vlog, ‘MADE Everyday’.

Overall, the tutorial was very easy to follow and this vlogger is really upbeat and encouraging, without sounding patronising or condescending. There were times in the video when I had to rewind and go over steps that I was unsure of, however, I was able to create not 1 but 2 pillowcases in the space of an hour. The instructions were clear and the vlogger sews the pillowcases during the video, which was helpful for me to watch her technique and attempt to emulate it. The pillowcases that are created in the video do not have the inside, overlapping fabric that covers the end of the pillow. Following the tutorial to a ‘T’ will leave you with a very basic pillow covering, which is great if that’s the look that you are going for.

I, however, wanted a pillowcase in the true sense. This meant me scrutinising one of my own pillowcases to ascertain exactly how it had been sewn together, then making a few adjustments to my project, in order to create the overlapping fabric to cover the end of the pillow. It was a very simple alteration and the result was very effective. The amount of fabric used leaves more than enough room for slightly larger/bulkier pillows. Less fabric can be used than is recommended in the tutorial, in order to give a snug fit to a standard sized pillow. I liked how the pillows looked with the use of slightly more fabric, so I would keep to the same amount of fabric the next time that I make pillowcases.

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Pillowcase
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Pillowcase interior

For such a simple project, I made quite a few mistakes, but this is simply down to my status as sewing newbie. I am still perfecting all of the ‘easy’ skills that intermediate and advanced sewists take for granted. Another problem of mine is following instructions to a ‘T.’ My biggest problems came when making the second pillowcase. I thought that I knew all of the steps and could easily recall what should happen next, therefore I tried to make the pillowcase without the aid of the video…..EPIC FAIL!!

My brain was still getting to grips with all of the skills required to make this new project, so adding on the additional chore of memorising each step AND trying to get each step done as perfectly as I could led to many mistakes and the inevitable use of my best friend (the seam unpicker). Note to self – go easy with the seam unpicker, otherwise it leads to rips/tears in the fabric where rips/tears are not welcome.

THANKFULLY, the small tear occurred on the inside of the overlapping fabric that covers the end of the pillow, so I did a quick patch job to ensure that it didn’t turn into a major issue. I let my mum know about my slight error and she was very understanding, reassuring me that it didn’t matter and that she would be happy to accept ANYTHING that I made (oh, a mother’s love). I really enjoyed making these pillowcases and will make more in the future.

Projects Projects Projects

A collage of my sewing projects in 2017

This is the start of my third week of sewing. So far, I’ve made 3 aprons, 2 cushions, 2 pillowcases and 2 ties. More in the pipeline!

Labour of Love

The process of making two aprons from scratch.

It’s been challenging. It’s been frustrating. I almost gave up…many, many MANY times. I’m happy to say that I persevered and even though I would have liked better results (I expect far too much of myself, I’m working on this flaw) the 2 aprons are finally complete:

I made mistake, after mistake, after mistake. Even right up to the very end of the project, when I thought that I had completed my final apron; I turned it around and noticed that I had stitched one of the apron ties to the main body of the fabric. Gggrrrrrr!!! I had to dig deep and find the strength and will to finish those two aprons. I had a moment (it lasted for 20 minutes) when I contemplated throwing away one of the partially completed aprons. I was desperate, disappointed and fed up beyond belief with myself, my supposed lack of sewing ability, the fabric not doing what I wanted, the sewing machine not doing what I wanted, life being unbearable, blah blah blah…..I was at a low point.

I then pulled myself together (somewhat) and felt absolutely horrified at the thought of WASTING FABRIC!! NO!!! Then I began to wonder if anyone kept a stash of projects that had gone wrong, simply to remind themselves of how hideously something had turned out at the first attempt. Out of curiosity, does anybody out there do this? I am genuinely considering creating a fabric room 101-esque stash of reject projects. I dispelled that idea, because it felt too much like giving up (which I cannot stand to do) and that’s when I formed a new relationship with my ‘unpicker’. It turns out that this bad girl was the best £1.25 I’ve ever spent:

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My best friend: the fabric unpicker

Those 2 aprons had me unpicking like I’d never unpicked before, as though my life depended on it. I could easily call myself a master unpicker. If you need stitches unpicking, I’m your girl. I essentially more than doubled the time needed to complete both aprons, because I had to unpick the majority of my work. What I can say is that this experience has taught me never to be afraid of unpicking. This might sound strange, but I had this idea that every stitch I made HAD to be perfect FIRST TIME. That the calibre of sewist was directly proportionate to the number of times you made a perfect project. Now I know that thought was completely ridiculous, because there is no perfect project and there will always be mistakes.

I should never be afraid to unpick stitches that are not correct, because as I have experienced, it can be the difference between completing a project that I am proud of and binning a project altogether. These 2 aprons will always be remembered as my first sewing labour of love. They taught me patience, the importance of paying attention to detail, the art of taking my time and they also showed me the full extent of my love for sewing. They are going off to wonderful homes where I am know that the love and appreciation for these handmade treasures will far outweigh the love, care and hard work that went into making them.

I have now made 5 projects in the 13 days since my sewing adventure began. I have already compiled a list of projects that I wish to complete. I am really itching to start making clothes and I must admit that in the early hours of the night when my insomnia had firmly taken hold, I started to peruse blogs of other sewists whose sewing skills I greatly admire. One particular blogger had made ‘The Bettine’ dress from a pattern by Tilly and the Buttons. I love the style and the pattern is ‘easy,’ so a great first garment for me to make.

I am currently awaiting the pattern’s arrival and it will be one of the projects I will start in the next few weeks. I am very excited to see how it turns out. Shout out to Emily, writer of the blog, ‘Self Assembly Required’ for posting about her experience using this pattern. It definitely helped me to find my first garment pattern. While I wait for ‘The Bettine’ pattern to arrive, I will start on my next project: pillowcases. I am anticipating that they will be simpler to complete than the aprons and provide a much needed break from my ‘best friend’ the unpicker. It has been said that absence makes the heart grow fonder…

First Unsupervised Project

My experience sewing solo. No workshops, just me at home with my sewing machine.

A few days ago, I started and completed my first unsupervised project. It was another ‘envelope’ back cushion and the results were not too shabby. I could easily pick apart (pun intended) my project and be really hard on myself, but I will resist the temptation to do so. I have to be realistic: it’s my third EVER sewing project, it’s my first ever time following the instructions and creating it by myself, PLUS I finished it within 3 hours. I’m very proud. Here is the finished product:

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‘Envelope’ back

My mum will be the lucky recipient of this cushion, along with my one of the items of my next project that I’ll start today, which is 2 aprons. For the aprons, I have had to create a pattern using the original, completed project, as I was not provided with the dimensions for the material. This has meant pushing myself further and taking the initiative to start learning more sewing skills. I’m very excited for where this will take me in terms of upcoming projects (pillowcases followed by a simple gathered skirt, perhaps).

Remember when I wrote about my unsuccessful use of the overlock stitch on the sewing machine, during my first unsupervised sew, which prompted the purchase of the overlocker? Well, I have to admit that I am now very happy with my decision to purchase the overlocker. An expense that I could perhaps have done without, however the results are brilliant. See for yourself:

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Now that I have proved to myself that I can really sew, that it’s not just a fluke that occurs when I’m in a sewing class, I am ready to start the next project. I’ll let you know how it goes. My sewing adventure continues.