Pattern testing: Ready to Sew Jasper

At the end of October I went to Paris for a conference. It was great. I attended really interesting talks, met some inspiring people, ate great French food, drank fantastic French wine, properly caught up with a friend I see too rarely, saw lots of art, and walked tons in the autumn sunshine.

But one thing I didn't do was keep up with my social media. My days were so full with things that I didn't really keep track of the notifications that were being sent. When I got back to Manchester I noticed that I had missed some good things, including a message from the lovely Raphaëlle of Ready to Sew asking if I'd like to pattern test one of her new patterns. Would I? Of course!

A sensible response would have been to politely decline because I had my busiest month of the year so far ahead of me. Not to mention that I have zero experience of pattern testing. But I couldn't resist. The patterns are all so beautiful, and one in particular spoke to me. Jasper. I loved the look of it! The relaxed fit, and the contemporary design lines, like the shawl collar and gathers by the shoulders.

I even had the perfect fabric!

It had some temporary competition from some plaid brushed cotton that slipped into my fabric order when I ordered the lining. But an Instagram poll resolved the situation for me.

While I'm happy that the houndstooth fabric won, because I really like the finished result, especially with the aubergine lining, I think the cotton would have made for a much easier sewing experience.

I'm not quite sure what this houndstooth is, I stole it from my mom's stash when I first learnt to sew years and years ago. It feels 'spongy' and is loosely woven. It frays madly and very easily pulls out of shape. As you can imagine that was a headache and slowed the sewing process right down. I stay stitched all curved edges before I even began sewing anything. And I had to finish every single seam, otherwise I'd just have an unravelling mess.

But other than that I had no issues with sewing this coat. It was a very smooth process. The pattern is great. Each piece has clear markings which are well described in the instructions. The instructions are well written and clear. There were a few steps that werent quite clear to me at first, but I fed back my thoughts on them to Raphaëlle  and she has confirmed how she is changing the wording, and I think it all makes perfect sense now.

(Please note that my pockets sit a bit lower than on the actual pattern. I transferred the markings wrong on one side, so did the other the same to match.)

The instructions are not overly detailed, but to be honest, they dont really need to be, as none of the steps are particularly difficult. I found the lining a bit tricky to get my head around (mind you, Id never sewn a lining on anything but skirts before), but the instructions booklet has this lovely feature where you can click on a help button and it takes you through to the Ready to Sew blog, which has a tutorial on that step. I love that feature! I havent seen it on other patterns, but would love to, as it just makes the process seamless (no pun intended).

The instructions booklet even links through to a playlist for sewing the pattern! I LOVED the idea of that, but didnt get a chance to listen, as I was multitasking the sewing with bingewatching Outlander.

The only real issue I did have with the pattern is that the belt came out too short. Raphaëlle has confirmed that other pattern testers had this problem, and she has lengthened it for the actual pattern, which is available now.

And in terms of size, I cut a straight size 38 and it fits great. My hip measurement was closer to size 40, but whenever Ive had this issue I just go with the lower size anyways and never have any problems. Including this time. Im happy with how the coat fits. The arms are a bit short on me, but thats not the pattern, but rather my orangutan arms. Ive had this problem before with other patterns, and then I usually lengthen the arms a few cm, but I completely forgot this time. I blame my stressed out and frazzled brain.

So overall, its a great pattern! I had never sewn a coat before and was a bit nervous about that, but it really wasnt too hard, the pattern instructions break it all down well. While it wasnt hard, I wouldnt say that the pattern is suitable for a complete beginner, but somebody with a bit of experience should not have any problems.

Also, Ive never sewn Ready to Sew patterns before, but can tell you that Jasper definitely wont be my last!

Autumnal Nina Lee Kew dress

This is my first make after a long sewing break, and I'm really very excited to share it. I packed my sewing machine up two months ago as we moved from Oxford to Manchester for me to start a PhD here. It was one of the first things I unpacked, but I just couldn't find the time to sew for the first couple of weeks that we were settling in. Then the PhD started, and as I was trying to establish some kind of routine, sewing was low down the list of priorities. But then I realised that sewing is one of my most effective ways to relax and disconnect from the 9-5 activities, so I decided to start a project that's been on my 'want to sew' list for the longest time - a tea dress.

This dress started with the fabric. It's a lovely olive green viscose challis. I saw it in one of Fabric Godmother's newsletters and I couldn't resist it. When it arrived it just looked like a tea dress to me, so that's what it had to become. This was in early March.

There's two reasons why it took me so long to sew this dress. Firstly, the fabric has an autumnal look about it, so it didn't tempt me during spring and summer. Secondly, I just couldn't decide on a pattern.

I wanted a tea dress, but not a too vintage-y one. I used to own a fabulous tea dress, with all the lovely details reminiscent of a 1940s one. But I never wore it. With all its lovely intricate details it became a special occasion dress, and I have more special occasion dresses than I have special occasions. So I sold it. I kind of wish I didn't, but ah well.

So with that in mind I knew that if I made a very vintage looking tea dress, I just wouldn't wear it. Instead I wanted an everyday dress that reminded of a tea dress.

But I couldn't find a pattern. I thought of hacking a pattern that had the overall shape I wanted, e.g. Darling Ranges, or drafting my own, but that would require making a toile to check that it was turning out the way I wanted, and I just didn't have the time. Well, I guess I did, because I wasn't on a deadline or anything, but I didn't want to spend time on making a toile.

And then I saw the Kew dress by Nina Lee. And it was perfect! A simple and clean, but still very feminine look.

It was my first Nina Lee pattern, and I was excited to try it. It turned out to be a delightful sewing experience. The pattern is well-drafted and the instructions really thorough. It's quite an easy dress to sew, with nothing more complicated than inset sleeves. Because I hadn't been sewing for so long something easy and satisfying is really what I fancied, and the Kew dress delivered.

And I love the result! It's exactly the dress I had in mind when I first bought the fabric! It's simple, yet incredibly flattering, and importantly, very wearable.

In terms of construction, I only changed four things and three of them are all quite obvious. Firstly, I didn't do ruched sleeves. See point above about not wanting it too vintage-y looking.  Secondly, I shortened the dress by 15 cm. I love the elegant look of the original mid-calf length, but above the knees is just a length I feel more comfortable in. Finally, I didn't space my buttons as closely as in the pattern. This was a practical decision. I had some buttons which fit perfectly for my fabric, but they are quite large, and wouldn't look nice spaced closely together. Also, because my fabric is very lightweight I was worried that too many large buttons would weigh on the fabric and pull it out of shape. Maybe this is a silly worry, given that the dress has interfaced facings, I don't know. But the two bodice fronts are gaping a bit in between the buttons, which you might be able to see in the photos. So what I might do is put snaps between the buttons, but just on the facing, so they don't show from the outside.

Finally, the facing refused to stay down at the back despite understitching it and catch-stitching it to the shoulder seams. So I sewed a curved line between the shoulder seam on each side, through both the facing and the bodice back, like you see on RTW garments sometime. It means that there are visible stitches on the back of the bodice, but I think I did a reasonably neat job, so they don't bother me. Also, most likely I'll wear the dress with my hair down, so they won't even show.

So in summary I'm really happy with it! So happy I wore it out for a movie date the same day I finished it. Would love to make the cold shoulder version for summer. But first maybe some more autumn/winter makes.

Speaking of winter, tt was freezing taking these photos outside, but Josh kept me amused by making funny faces at me through the window as I posed for the self-timer, which resulted in this photo below. My favourite out of the set.

Kalle shirt dress

I've been intending to blog this dress ever since I made it, because I absolutely adore it. I even had some photos ready to go, which Josh took for me. Yet I kept putting it off. And now that I'm finally writing the blog post I know why. Because I have nothing to say about it. I followed every step of the instructions, changed nothing, and it turned out fantastic. Makes for a pretty boring blog post, no?

So then I thought I'd take some new photos, in some nice scenery,  to create something interesting to look at. On a run I had discovered the perfect place - a wheat field stretching seemingly forever. I loved the idea of the golden field with blue skies and the blue dress.

Look! Wouldn't my Kalle dress looks fantastic in this photo?

But after that run it started raining to not stop. Even when it wasn't raining the sky had that threatening grey colour. And for the photos I wanted I needed a blue sky.

Then one overcast day I came home from work to see the farmer harvesting the wheat. I rushed outside with my tripod to a field he had not yet gotten to, to try to take some photos despite the ominous sky. But the light was just all kinds of wrong. And I was exhausted from a loooong day at work, which shows in the photos. Sloping shoulders, no smile. Not exactly what I want to post on this blog.

But since I put some effort in, I really wanted to blog about the dress. So here goes. With the original photos.

Let's start with the fabric. You all know that I love Fabric Godmother and her selection of all the most beautiful fabrics. I subscribe to email updates and each time I get one my bank balance takes a hit. Except on this particular occasion, because the email was referring to a sale. I wasted no time in getting to the website and selecting my sale finds. I was saving money here after all!

I bought this denim and some floral scuba (which became a Sewaholic Davie dress, shown on Instagram during Me Made May, but not yet here). When I bought the denim I thought I'd use it for the Bridgetown dress. This was before I completely gave up on project Sew My Style.

But when I saw the Kalle pattern I knew I had to use the denim for this. I had seen the shirt dress this pattern is based on in Heather Lou's blog when she first posted about it, and I LOVED it. So when the pattern dropped I went straight for it.

And it's every bit as good as I expected it to be. I love that it's short in the front, and even shorter on the sides, but very modestly long at the back. I love that it's floaty and cool on a hot day. I love the kimono sleeves, which are just so flattering. I love the wide pleat at the back, which creates that beautiful drape down the back. I love the little pocket. And I love that it's feminine, but not overly sweetly so.

Yeah, so in summary I really love it. 

Really tempted to make another, but the summer weather seems to have disappeared. However, as soon as it returns I'll be ready with the pattern in one hand and 2 m of fabric in another!

Photo credit: Josh

The garden, a rant about mental well-being, and Turia dungarees

When I moved into the cottage I live in now the garden was a mess. The house had been empty for years and the garden had become overgrown with weeds and thorny shrubs. Before letting it, my landlords brought in somebody to clear it, and while they got rid of all the wild plants, they left a mess behind. Dead, dried plants on the ground, lots of rubble, thick roots from the chopped down shrubs, and lots of broken glass from some picture frames which had been left outside. It looked like a set for a post-apocalyptic film. I have never had an interest in gardening, so I had no plans whatsoever of doing anything about it.

But as it happened, I did. And it was the most therapeutic thing I've done possibly ever. I have alluded in this blog and on Instagram that I have a thing with SAD. I say 'a thing' because I've never gone to my GP about it and had it confirmed. So that it's SAD is guesswork. But I do have a degree in psychology, so it's educated guesswork. ;)

I come from a culture where mental illhealth is not a real thing. It's just a weakness really. So I learnt to suppress my depressive tendencies and not acknowledge them.

But getting older and walking my own path in life has helped me accept that while I am a very happy person most of the time, I am a sad person some of the time. And that's fine, no big deal.

The window you see in the background is my sewing room.

Last few winters I have been down. Comes on sort of January time, stops end of Feb/beginning of March. I'm pretty sure it's SAD. And this most recent winter was not great. I decided to make a massive career change and I poured all my time into it. I neglected everybody around me and spent all my free time cooped up in the spare room, hunched over my laptop, working on this goal I had. There were no major issues with my mood because I was motivated, driven and focussed. And that kept me happy. But it was getting exhausting working the day job, coming home and then working until late on this thing, and not really relaxing.

And then I failed. And that coincided with my usual January low mood. So...I was pretty unhappy.

However, if it is one thing I've learnt during my years of repressing bad mood, it's that taking on a completely unrelated challenge helps. So when I saw my professional dreams fail (only to rise from the ashes like a phoenix 5 months later, but I didn't know that would happen at the time), the emotional storm that followed had to be channelled into something. Thus, I plunged myself into unchartered territory. Gardening.

I had made a very lame attempt in the past, when I bought two tomato plants and a couple of strawberry plants and attempted to grow them in terracotta pots on the windowsill. I only fed them water and neglect and surprise, surprise, they died. But this time I utilised the resources available to me. The wealth of knowledge that is my neighbour, a retired professional gardener, my mom who has the greenest fingers in the world, and of course the Internet.

And...the garden is thriving. I have suffered losses to natural forces, including an army of slugs and a brutal storm that pulled several plants out of the ground. But the rest is doing great.

Now that plants, which I've grown from tiny seeds (or in the case of the strawberries and tomatoes, from seedlings from the garden centre) are producing fruit, I am beaming with pride. But more importantly, the garden helped me get through a very unhappy time and back to my happy self.

I ran a half marathon last year for Restore, an Oxforshire mental health charity. A lot of their work involves their members getting involved in gardening work as a form of therapy. I loved the sound of that, but in hindsight I know it didn't fully resonate with me until now. Now I get it.

So as you can imagine, I have a lot of love for my garden. So much that I devoted a sewing project to it.  I had been digging, planting, weeding, watering and everything else in old jeans and wellies. But I felt the garden deserved better, so I decided to make a pair of dungarees specifically for working in the garden.

I used the Turia pattern from Pauline Alice. Lovely pattern and great instructions. It's a bit time-consuming with all that topstitching, but I found it very satisfying to just sew a whole lot of straight lines in a fabric that behaves when handled. My only issue with the pattern was the legs, which are way too wide for my taste. So I tapered them quite a bit. When I finished them I wished I had tapered them a tiny bit more, but I flat-felled the seams and didn't fancy ripping them up, so I left them as they are.

The only other deviation from the pattern instructions I did was to only use one zipper, instead of one on each side. And I have no problems getting in and out of the dungarees.

The fabric is medium weight denim from Merchant and Mills in a deep blue colour. I wanted something tough which will withstand kneeling, moving, getting covered in soil, being washed at a high temperature, etc. And this denim ticks all boxes.

I am so happy with these dungarees. And my garden. So here is a photo bomb of both.

Liberty Queue for the Zoo Archer

This shirt has been a long time in the making. The Grainline Archer button up shirt is one of my favourite TNT patterns, if not the favourite. I have made a couple in really sensible blue chambrays that I wear so much I fear I will wear them out soon.

But I started to itch to make one in a whimsical pattern. There is something about smart clothes in unpredictable prints that I find irresistible. I usually just admire it on others, not feeling brave enough to rock flamingos or cats on office wear myself. So I started thinking that maybe instead of full out flamingos, I could try a floral Liberty fabric as a light venture into whimsical prints. A soft-start, if you will. But when I was in Liberty, stroking the rolls of floral Tana Lawn, my eyes kept landing on this fabric covered in camels, giraffes and elephants with briefcases - Queue for the Zoo. I tried to turn my attention back to the florals, but it was hopeless, I had to have this fabric.

Unfortunately, I bought it just before moving house, so it didn't get made up straight away. After settling into the new house I had no time to sew anything but superquick projects, so my whimsical Archer had to wait. Until the Easter bank holiday weekend just gone. Almost a year after I bought the fabric.

In a way it was lucky, I guess, because by this point I had bought my new machine, which helped me achieve a really neat result.

In terms of construction...I've made a couple of Archers and Alders in the past and could by now probably sew one in my sleep. It helps that it is an exceptionally well designed pattern. I remember the first time I made it, and how nervous I was about how difficult it would be. And then being surprised by how straight-forward it was. For that reason I keep recommending this pattern to friends who are getting into sewing. The instructions hold your hand throughout the process and once you have one of these under your belt you feel like a sewing bad-ass.

I don't have any photos of this, but I did flat-felled sleeves on the side and sleeve seams. It's my favourite and I learned a really easy way to do it from the Colette Negroni pattern, which doesn't involved any special foot. Because I like wearing my sleeves rolled up, the seams are on display, and a flat-felled sleeve looks great inside and out.

Those of you with good eye sight will notice that my button plackets are the wrong way around. That was intentional. I didn't fancy trying to match this messy pattern, and doing it this way around looked a bit neater.

One thing I didn't do intentionally, and wish I had thought about - the collar. It's upside down. Well, the little animals on it are anyway. When it is flipped down. So I guess I could just walk around with my collar popped.

Or not.

I normally like a tower placket on a button up shirt and always change this from the placket in the pattern, but on this busy fabric I just couldn't be bothered. Plus, I always wear my sleeves rolled up. Well, except when I'm posing for the self-timer, see below.

I considered doing the back yoke in two parts, on the bias, to create something of a visual effect. But once again I decided I couldn't be bothered. The thing is, this fabric is so busy, and so lovely, that it will demand all attention, and constructional details become just a side note.

The shirt is not as puffy at the back as it looks. It's just my terrible posture. The pelvis-out-shoulder-blades-back pose, just waiting for it to make it big on Insta.

So in conclusion - yeah, I love it! To be honest, there is a selection bias in that I only post things I like on the blog, because of the work involved in taking the photos and editing them and writing about the project, etc, but I really, really love this one. Those giraffes in trainers, parrots in top hats and elephants with briefcases put a smile on my face every time.

It will be an only child though, because this is all the whimsical my wardrobe can take. But it will be loved.