Cushion making

In 2015 I was on a mission to acquire sewing skills that would enable me to produce clothes more ethically. I completed a number of evening classes which took me to the heady heights of producing my own (lined and pretty fancy) party dress, which I wore with pride on Christmas Day. I didn’t even care that I was the most overdressed person in the family(when did everyone start dressing down for December’s main event?!)

However, while I do well at sewing under the instruction of an experienced teacher, I drop back a few leagues when I’m sitting by myself at home with my own sewing machine…

A few months ago, I decided to replace the cushions on a sofa – to clarify, I mean the scatter cushions, not the actual big cushions that make up the sofa! I decided that this should be a task within my capabilities but, alas, when I got out my beginners sewing book, even altering the measurements of the cushion in the book to the size I wanted to make, sent me into a bit of a panic so…I signed up for another short course.

As a result I replaced the cushions (my kids chose the fabric):

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I made another for a different seat:

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and I even managed to make some as Christmas presents in this fabric:

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I’m fairly delighted with my progress for the following reasons:

  • While party dresses are all well and good, in my life they are of limited use! What I need to be doing is using my sewing skills to avoid relying on chain stores. My issue is that these shops generally fail to inform me who sews their products, or what conditions their employees are working in.
  • To be able to allow my children to pick fabrics adds more meaning to the items in our home, plus I hope it shows the kids one of the benefits of making your own things. (I have a grand plan that in several years’ time when they leave home they will take with them some basic skills – including sewing).
  • I have increased the repertoire of gifts that I am able to make. I’m keen to get away from purely consumer-driven culture of just throwing money at things, in an attempt to show someone how much you care. The more time and thought that you can demonstrate has gone into a gift, surely the more meaningful that offering actually becomes?
Plus
  • Sewing cushions is really quite satisfying and (now that I know how) very simple!
Hmmm…what will I sew next?

New Year’s Resolutions – 2016

Happy New Year!!

It’s not the most original opening to my first post of 2016, but it’s sincere. I hope that you have a fantastic and fulfilling 12 months ahead.

I am starting this year full of hope. I have concocted five goals that I want to work towards on the blog – some build on my previous efforts towards creating a more sustainable lifestyle, some are new, but all (I hope) will bring new and exciting opportunities to learn. Equally as important is that they are all absolutely achievable, as long as I’m willing to put in the effort – and I am! I really am!

So, without further ado, here are my New Year’s Resolutions for 2016…..

  1. Increase my blogging. I’d like my posts to average out over the year at 2 per week, therefore I’m aiming to end in December around the 104 mark.

I love my blog, I really do, but I’ve found that without disciplining myself to write, it’s the first thing to fall by the wayside when life gets busy or stressful. I miss writing though, and without the motivation I get from publicly sharing my progress, I’m in danger of achieving less. I’m also missing my pals in the blogging community, so for lots of reasons, it makes a lot of sense to breathe some new life into my blog. It’s good to be back!

  1. To build on the good work I did last year when I learned to sew. I want to save more clothes from landfill by altering them or upcycling them into other items. Where I do make clothes from scratch, I want to start using some organic fabrics.

My motivation to learn to sew grew from my decision to take a step back (if not completely away) from the fashion industry. I don’t want to support slave labour or environmental damage. I want to use my new sewing skills to extend the life of the clothes in my family and ultimately prevent them from being left to rot and leach chemicals into the earth. By increasing (from nothing!) my use of organic fabric, I will – slightly – minimise the negative environmental impact that producing those materials cause.

  1. I will continue to learn to knit, with the aim of being able to produce items that can be gifted.

Last year, while doing really well with my knitting, I got carried away learning some complicated techniques. This year I must focus on producing pieces that can be given away as lovingly made and thoughtful presents, which have been created as ethically as possible.

  1. I will dramatically increase the amount of food that I cook from scratch, using organic ingredients where practically possible, with the aim of reducing the packaging I contribute to landfill.

I failed in my goal to keep reducing my rubbish last year, and I’m sure the amount of ‘convenience’ foods I bring into the house contributed to this. It’s time to reduce our rubbish and improve our diets! This will also help with goal 5…

  1. I am going to provide healthier and more varied food for my family.

I am bored of the food I cook, bake and buy. When the kids complain about the same old stuff, I tend to agree rather than reprimand – it’s got that bad! I amn’t keen on cooking and creating food but I’m going to grab the metaphorical bull by its horns and throw myself into this challenge. It’s time to cook new meals, bake (some of) our own snacks and find out what it is that those self-proclaimed foodies love about meal times. I want my family to look forward to their meals and be excited about what delight is served. I would like someone at some point this year to ask for seconds!!!

Good luck to everyone out there hoping to live your dreams in 2016, you can do it!

If you want to see how I got on in achieving my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015, check out yesterday’s post.

Bunting for Zero Waste Week

It’s Day 7 of Zero Waste Week and I have to admit, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both the writing side of the reuse theme, as well as the creative side. Although today’s post is the last of this week, I’m sure that this is a topic I’ll be writing about again soon on the blog – I certainly have enough fabric at home from old clothes to use up, plus I now have a list of things I’d like to make. The project I’m sharing today is still a work in progress but I’m hopeful that this post will be enough to inspire and instruct, should you be tempted to do something similar.

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

One of my children is surprisingly fussy about the clothes they wear. There are key pieces in the wardrobe that are firm favourites, and said child will wear them whenever possible, whatever the occasion. Inevitably, of course, eventually those outfits stop fitting and (unlike toys which I have almost a 100% success rate of sneaking out of the house without anyone ever noticing) those favourite outfits carry on being requested.

For a while I’ve been trying to come up with ways that I can upcycle the outfits for other children in the extended family so that they are still useful, and so that my wee one knows they haven’t just disappeared. Nothing was acceptable though until yesterday (perhaps inspired by Friday’s bunting birthday card), when I suggested that we used the material to make bunting to hang around the bed.

Bingo! My wee one loved the idea, and so I’ve been working away on a mock-up, to ensure I get the bunting right when cutting up the precious outfits. I actually really love the idea that the bunting can be added to over the years, with each piece of fabric  having a story to tell.

Here’s my progress so far…

I made a triangular template from a sewing book – the straight line at the top of the triangle is 19cm and each diagonal side is 22.5cm.

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I then found an old pyjama top of mine and ironed the larger panels of fabric (remember this is just a mock up!)

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I then cut off a front side panel and folded it in half. I pinned my triangle to the fabric.

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I cut out my triangle on the folded fabric which gave me two triangles.

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I then pinned these together (right sides facing each other) and sewed on the two diagonal lines.

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I turned the triangle inside out and snipped the extra material away from the point of the triangle so that the bunting would have a sharp tip.

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I flipped the triangle back the right way around, and poked the point of the triangle with a knitting needle as suggested by my sewing book (for extra sharpness!)

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The next stage is to make all of your triangles and sew them together with bias binding, leaving equal spaces between them. I didn’t have any bias binding so I have improvised with a piece of white paper for the purposes of illustrating what to do! This is as far as I got…

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To hang your bunting, it’s suggested that you make loops at each end of your bias binding. It’s therefore obviously important to factor in a good length of binding when attaching your triangles. The loops may be a good hiding place for the extra binding if, like me, you are hoping to add triangles as time passes.

I’d love to see pictures of any homemade bunting you have!

A massive thank you to everyone who’s read my blog, commented and liked posts during Zero Waste Week 🙂

 

T-shirt shopping bag for Zero Waste Week

The King of the reusable item is surely has the cloth bag. Here in Scotland we have been charged 5p for plastic bags since 20th October 2014, and that has dramatically reduced our consumption, as this article via the BBC explains.   Wales has been on board since 1st October 2011 (go Wales!), and Ireland since 8th April 2013. England is to follow suit on 5th October of this year.

I have a lot of cloth bags, which I discuss in this post. I thought I was prepared for the bag charge and, for a while, my supply of bags was more enough. However, what I failed to account for is the plastic bags I used that had nothing to do with shopping. For example, when I passed on clothes, books etc. to family members or friends, I would usually have put these in a bag (guilt free of course as I was reusing the bag). I also used them as bin liners, for separating items in my case when I went on holiday, and for kneeling on when I worked in the garden. The list purposes for these bags went on and on. The other thing I failed to account for was that, although I already refused most of the plastic bags I was offered in shops, I acquired them (whether I liked it or not) – usually from people giving me useful items they were passing on.

My plastic bag collection saw me through a few months but slowly I stopped finding myself in possession of them, meaning that my stash of cloth bags had to be put to good use, as I started using them instead of plastic bags for things other than shopping.

I now have numerous bags around the house which hold knitting and sewing projects. I always use one for the kids’ water bottles when we are out to stop them leaking into my own tote. I now lend them out when I pass things on to the family and, although I get them back eventually, it can take time.

My very favourite cloth bags are the Onya bags which are fantastic for the following reasons:

  • They are super strong (some of mine are made out of parachute material)
  • They fold up into a tiny pouch so are very easily transportable
  • They come in a variety of shapes and sizes so you can pick whichever size best meets your needs
  • They are machine washable

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I was going to invest in some more (I have about 10 already), when I started thinking about projects that I could blog about during Zero Waste Week. Perhaps I could make some cloth bags! I remembered that Jen from MakedoandMend-able site had made a shopper out of an old t-shirt, so I searched her fantastic blog and found an easy-peasy tutorial.

My other half had a clear out earlier in the week and gave me a whole bunch of weird and wonderful items that had been languishing in his wardrobe. I think that after he saw my shirt to skirt project, he perhaps overestimated my sewing skills and thought I could turn them into a whole wardrobe of loveliness for me 🙂

There was a t-shirt in there that I thought would make a great shopper. (I am still taken aback that this t-shirt exists – we have been together for years and years and I don’t think I’ve ever clapped eyes on it before! Apparently it’s too small so he’s never worn it.)

I pretty much followed Jen’s tutorial to the letter.

Here’s the t-shirt

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I chopped the arms off

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I took the liberty of also chopping off the bottom seam as thought that would make it easier for me to sew.

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I then simply turned it inside out, pinned and sewed along the bottom seam (zig zaging the edge to prevent fraying), turned it back the right way and I had myself a new – if not especially photogenic- shopper.

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Here it is in my car boot full of shopping!

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I may cut the neck to make it a bit bigger as I found myself stuffing items in the arm hole, but that was okay!

If you like this idea but don’t sew, then I found this tutorial from mommypotamous who offers the same bag, but uses a clever method to join the two sides of the bag at the bottom. She also uses a much prettier t-shirt than mine, which makes the bag look very cute. I reckon making her version would be a good craft project for kids who are able to use scissors.

Happy Zero Waste Week everyone!
Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

Draft excluder for Zero Waste Week

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

My other half gave me a pair of his old trousers a few months ago that were fraying at the ankle, and were generally looking past their best. In short, they were no longer suitable to wear. In the past I’d have put them into the Rag Bag collection, but now that I’ve got a sewing machine, I’m keen to upcycle anything that I can into something that would be useful.

It struck me that a leg of the trousers could be converted into an effective draft excluder. Our home is very drafty in places, due to poorly fitting doors and original floorboards. I’ve been meaning to attempt this project since I acquired the trousers but, even here in Scotland, the summer weather has meant it wasn’t a priority.

With the theme of Zero Waste Week this year being ‘reuse’ however (and my theme being specifically to reuse fabric), I felt that the time had come to turn those tatty old trousers into something that could help me keep our home warm, as the temperature drops like a stone. This actually turned out to be super simple, and only took me an evening.

Here are the trousers

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After ironing them, I decided that the trousers alone were a bit boring, so I found myself some leftover felt from the kids’ craft box and cut some hearts out (as you know from this post, I have a lot of options for heart templates!)

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note the zero waste cutting!

Using a craft & fabric glue I have, I glued a heart on to the trousers to check that it would stay in place. Satisfied, I cut the leg off the trousers and chopped down one of the seams to make my trouser leg less leg shaped and more rectangular.

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I then pinned and sewed the seam back in, and also closed the fraying ankle hole. All of this was done with right sides facing.

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I then glued all of my felt hearts in place. ‘What is it about you and fabric hearts??’ My other half wanted to know. (The answer is that I think they’re sooo pretty!)

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I should at this point have let all of the glue on the hearts dry properly, which would have saved me reapplying more later when the hears started slipping about.

I then went to my bag of old clothes, towels and fabric scraps and put as much as I could inside for stuffing *

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All that was really left to do now was close the top of the leg. I used the sewing machine which wasn’t the neatest finish (or the easiest, as I had to hold back the bulge of stuffing) but it did the job.

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I was pretty delighted at how my draft excluder turned out. I fully expected it to look like the stuffed pair of trousers that it is, but I actually think this little addition to my home is quite delightful. I won’t be hiding it when guests come round.

*It may be wise at this point to check that your stuffing is safe (ie avoid flammable items)

Dress alteration for Zero Waste Week

This week, as you may have gathered, is Zero Waste Week. The theme is reuse and I have chosen to focus specifically on reusing fabric. In today’s post I adapt an old favourite item of clothing so that I can wear it again…

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

Despite enjoying a good old declutter, there were a few badly fitting items in my wardrobe that I hung on to for years, hoping that, one day, somehow, I would be able to fit into them again.

This is one such dress.

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I bought it from Monsoon at the start of my second pregnancy. The smaller size didn’t fit me over the bust (as I said, I was pregnant!) and the next size up was too big. I really loved it, so I decided to buy the dress and wear it when my bump had grown. Sure enough, when the time came, me and my wee one rocked that outfit. As soon as I was dressing for one again, however, my gorgeous floral number just made me look like a deflated balloon.

While other items were cruelly culled from my wardrobe during clear-outs, this one managed to hang on, waiting for its relaunch. Years passed, but after I recently attended a sewing class which taught me to upcycle a shirt to a skirt, I dusted off my dress and decided to (finally) make it fit. Or at least try!

I gave it an iron and made the decision to work with only the lower half of the dress. I was given advice in a beginners’ sewing class that informed me that the easiest way to go wrong with an alteration, is to mess up the waistline. My dress has an empire waist so I wasn’t sure where the advice fit in, but I pressed ahead anyway.

Luckily because the dress wasn’t designed as maternity wear, I didn’t have to deal with extra material in the front panel. I therefore simply worked out how much I wanted to trim from the sides and then placed a pin on each side as a marker.

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I then used a washable felt pen (another tip from sewing class) and drew a diagonal line from the waist to the pin.

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I then pinned the fabric to hold it in place and sewed down my line with my sewing machine.

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Only at that point did I realise that I’d forgotten to take account of the patterned band of material at the bottom of the dress. Very luckily I’d almost matched the pattern, and I decided that it was good enough to leave.   I took better care the next time though and pretty much nailed it.

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attempt 1                                                attempt 2

When I tried on the dress, and was satisfied with how much material had been removed, and that the fabric hung well, I cut off the excess material that was now part of the seam.  I then did a zig zag stitch down each side to prevent fraying.

As you can see from the top picture, my dress had a v-neck. I had been wearing it with a camisole top when it was warm and with long sleeves underneath when it was cooler, but (constantly drowning in laundry) I decided to see if I could sew a panel behind the v-neck so that I could wear it without involving any more clothes!

This was a bit of a leap of faith, but I was spurred on by the joy that I now had my dress back in working order. I also knew I could unpick any mistakes, should my experiment fail…

I went to my bag of worn out clothes and fabric scraps to see if I could fashion a panel from them. I found a t-shirt of my eldest’s that wasn’t wearable, but the bottom edge was in great condition – fresh and bright white. I roughly cut a piece of it off and hoped that if I added a pretty piece of lace trim, it might give me a camisole effect.

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I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous sewing lace onto jersey material – and no doubt there’s a sewing machine foot and a technique for that – but I just sewed the two pieces together with my machine and crossed my fingers! It was fine.

Delighted with myself, I then pinned my creation onto the v-neck of the dress. As you might expect this was a bit fiddly because I needed it to lie flat, but it probably only took about five minutes. I then sewed it on. That took at least two attempts but it was worth it.

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I have now worn the dress several times and the panel still looks great. The jersey fabric curled up at the joining seam but it hasn’t caused any problems for me. The alteration didn’t take me long at all, and, after buying so few clothes for so long, it’s great to have it back as a wardrobe staple!

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Fabric heart for Zero Waste Week

How’s Zero Waste Week going for you?

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

Today on the blog I’m using up some of those pesky fabric scraps that emerge from sewing projects. Sometimes these are the few centimetres that get chopped off the bottom of a dress to make it fit, and other times (especially for beginners like me) they can be the extra half metre bought in the hope that that little bit of surplus material will help you in correcting inevitable mistakes. I was once saved in just this way when I used a pattern that had four skirt options in it. I chose Option B (a maxi skirt) but I was accidently about to buy the amount of material required for Option A (a knee length skirt) when, on a whim at the counter, I asked for an extra metre of material to be added on. Boy, did that save my ass!

In today’s project, I’ve chosen to make a fabric heart. I’ve always loved these – I think they are gorgeous hanging from nails around the house Here’s one I received many years ago from a friend who was coming for lunch – we have it hanging on the edge of our open book cupboard:

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I’ve used fabric today from the grey cotton used in my shirt to skirt project. I’ve also managed to reduce the volume of my scrap bag which is full of worn out clothes and tiny bits of scrap from sewing projects.

I’ll be honest at this point – my fabric heart went nothing like to plan! However it did all turn out well in the end 🙂

The first thing I did in my quest to make the perfect fabric heart was to find myself a template. I have one in a sewing book but if I also discovered that if you put ‘heart template’ into a search engine, you’ll get lots of printables which can be cut out and traced. You can also use heart-shaped objects that you have lying around the house. I’ve used my cookie cutters a lot in projects such as this hand sewn card (but I’ve yet to bake with them!)

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So, the first thing I did to make my fabric heart was to trace around my template and cut it out – easy!

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I then pinned it on to my fabric and cut that out (you can use tailors chalk or washable felt pens to draw the shape on to the fabric if you prefer).

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So far so good. I did this twice and ended up with two hearts of pretty much the same size and shape.

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I then sewed them together with my sewing machine, leaving a 1.5cm seam allowance. It’s a tricky shape to sew but I was reasonably pleased with my efforts…

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…until I turned it inside out! It looked far too wonky to continue with my original idea.

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On to Plan B – which would’ve been ok if I had a Plan B…

I decided that the heart looked sweet the way it had been sewn, so I hastily flipped it back the right way round to see how it could be salvaged. My main problem was, of course, that the edge of the material was going to fray if left unattended. I would therefore need to either use a zig zag stitch (which would look terrible), learn some kind of hand stitch that would deal with the edges (that wasn’t going to happen, I was going off this project with every minute that passed), or use pinking shears, which I’ve read should stop ‘the fray’. I decided to use the pinking scissors and forged ahead like the zero hero I am!

My next task was to select some suitable ‘stuffing’ from my bag of scrap material.

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Ignoring the bag of toy stuffing sitting in my cupboard that would be perfect for this job, I selected an old pair of ripped tights and chopped them into small pieces. I also used some end pieces of wool and shoved gently eased them in too.

My heart still looked heart-like, but the bulge from the stuffing needed a little something to show that it too was in the shape of a heart. I therefore got out some red embroidery thread and hand stitched around the heart. That also added a pleasing pop of colour.

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Lastly I found a piece of red ribbon, which I hand sewed on to the heart. In the end, I had a zero waste heart I was be proud of!

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Shirt to skirt for Zero Waste Week

Welcome to the start of Zero Waste Week. The theme for 2015 is reuse.

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

When I found that out I thought ‘good work Rachelle’ (Rachelle Strauss is the founder of Zero Waste Week). It’s a great theme. Reusing things you already own, or have at your disposal, is a key component of the sustainable lifestyle. Less waste is generated because items are used for longer, or repurposed into something more useful. Furthermore, of course, there is a lack of ‘stuff’ coming into your life which will inevitably end up as more rubbish at some point in the future.

Far from being anywhere near zero waste in its purest form (is anyone?!), I have been reusing things and writing about those experience since I started getting a bit green. Throughout the week, I’ll dust off some of those old posts and tweet them out.

This week, while writing my own posts on reuse, I have decided to challenge myself and put my newly acquired sewing skills to good use. I will be reusing fabric. I’ll show you some of the projects that I have carried out recently, and will work on a few more during the course of the week. There will be examples of upcycling old clothes, adapting clothes that no longer fit, using fabric that I would have otherwise sent to the RagBag*, and using up fabric scraps from other projects.

For those of you who are new to the blog, I took up sewing properly at the start of 2015 when I made it my New Year’s Resolution to learn to sew. There were two main reasons behind this goal:

  1. I wanted to make clothes more ethically. After the Rana Plaza tragedy of April 2013, I wanted to ensure that I wasn’t supporting a fashion industry that uses extremely low paid workers, who are sewing in tretcherous conditions. I also wanted to source my own more ethically made material, and work towards using organic materials.
  2. I hoped to reuse some of the clothes I already had – whether that would be making things fit better, mending old favourites that are looking a bit shabby, or adapting my kids’ clothes so that they could keep them as they get bigger.

Much to my surprise, I had pretty much cracked my goal of learning to sew by about March when I made this dress in a dressmaking class.

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I loved the experience so much that I promptly made another one, and signed up for more classes. I now do a fair amount of sewing on my own second hand sewing machine.

It was easy to get into the sewing part of this challenge, but after about six months of simply enjoying the creative side, and, being in possession of an increasing number of wacky and wonderful bespoke pieces (welcome additions to my wardrobe after my year of buying no new clothes), it was time to get started with point number 2 above.

A real opportunity arose when I found a course, run by a local sewing school, which promised to teach me to upcycle an old shirt into a skirt. The timing was perfect. I did my preparatory work (left my other half in charge of the kids’ Saturday morning schedule, and mugged him of an old shirt), and off I went.

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I turned up to the three hour class with a shirt and a metre of material that I’d been asked to bring plus another metre of fun material that I thought would be a nice touch to include in a homemade item of clothing .

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I chose grey as I felt that it would ‘dull down’ the reds and yellows of the shirt. While I love bright colours, my confidence in producing a wearable outfit was fair to middling and I reckoned a sensible grey might forgive the inevitable flaws in my skirt.

At this point I ask that you will forgive my lack of photos of the process – I felt weird about taking pictures during the class. However I have drawn some lovely pictures for you with my kids’ felt pens so that you can fully experience the process! 🙂 **

Step 1 was to button up the shirt and pull it on so that the neck was (sort of) my waist band – I had to leave a few buttons undone, obvs.

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This was to see how much material I had at my disposal from the shirt. If you have a very big shirt then refashioning is fairly simple without having to use extra material. No one in the class had a big enough shirt for this option though, so we moved on to…

Step 2 which was to cut the shirt as below (with the red dashes being the cut marks).

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To explain better, I cut out the side seams to remove them, and I cut under the collar and round the yoke on the back – basically saving the easy-to-work-with material. I cut it to the size I needed for the length of the skirt.

Step 3: I then cut out panels from my grey fabic. I got to choose the shape for these. The length should obviously correspond with the length you want the skirt but the wider it is the more the skirt will flare out. I decided on the smallest size of panel I could get away with to join the pieces of my shirt. I made them rectangular. I felt making a skirt from a shirt was a statement enough, without it flaring all over the place!

Step 4: I sewed the four panels together so that they looked like a big wide skirt. (I thought about attempting a drawing for this but hastily reconsidered…)

Step 5: I created a waist band and chose to sew on a frill, made out of the ‘fun’ piece of material above. This was mainly to ensure that I kept the pocket where I wanted it and to stop it sneaking into the waistband.

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The frill (suggested by the tutor) was a cute addition that I think creates a little interest. When I sewed on my frill, I added in my elastic to ensure that the top of the skirt hugged my waist.

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Voila!

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The finished article took me longer to make than the time that had been allocated in the class – I took it home and worked away on it until I was happy.

Pretty pleased with the end result, I modelled it for the children who found it hilarious that mummy was wearing daddy’s shirt as a skirt. Cute as this was, I couldn’t objectively tell whether my skirt actually looked fabulous, or if it did simply look like a shirt with the arms cut off (oh no!).  I therefore dressed it up and wore it to a family party – a safe environment.

I’m not saying that there weren’t jokes. I (stupidly!) complemented someone on their shirt and had to dodge accusations that I wanted to turn it into another skirt, and – my personal favourite – someone else requested that I make a show-stopping outfit for an upcoming school reunion, using the old school uniform! Ultimately my new skirt got the thumbs up though, so I will be happily teaming it with long boots and a polo neck this autumn and wearing it with pride!

*from my general reading around the subject of clothes waste, I believe it is likely that these would be likely to have been shipped abroad, plus it is possible that a proportion of it would have ended up in landfill

**please direct all requests for illustrative work to my agent.

I made a dress!

Finally, and, as a result of popular demand (a few requests on Twitter) I’m posting about the dress I sewed.

I know! Me!  I made a dress!

If you follow my blog you’ll know that I’ve had a bee in my bonnet – pardon the pun – about sustainable fashion for a while now.  It probably dates back to the Rana Plaza disaster of 24 April 2013 which shocked me, and made me stop and think about my consumption of clothes…and then made me feel guilty.  What could I do about it though?  Give up buying clothes?  A-ha-ha-ha! As if…

By December 2013 my guilt was still hanging around, and I thought what if, just maybe, I could stop buying new clothes for 2014? The whole of 2014?  I did it though.  With the exception with an emergency replacement bra purchased in July, I didn’t buy a single other item of clothing for myself, and it was so darned easy!  (Of course it was easy, I had a wardrobe full of stuff I’d accumulated over the years without giving much thought to where it came from).

In my last post I explored ways that I could start adding to my wardrobe that might be considered ethical, or at the very least, not completely unethical.  Anyway, I reckoned that if I could learn to sew, I might just be able to make some of my own clothes, and source ethically made material to boot. Again, at the time that seemed ridiculous.  I had no sewing experience except for lessons at school when I was about 8. Those were so traumatic for me that my mum had to go in and speak to the teacher.  Even if you look back on my blog, I mention in passing trying to hand sew the hem of a cloth hankie in this post, and I gave up because I was so rubbish.

However, there’s a crazy gene of determination that runs through my family.  Those affected get a wild look in their eyes when they decide something needs done and the best thing to do, frankly, is step aside and let them get on with it. I thought it’d skipped me, but I became possessed with the desire to learn to sew and, ignoring the sniggers of friends and family alike, I signed up to a sewing class and learned the basics. I loved it, but the sewing school promptly stopped offering classes and subsequently closed. (I haven’t read anything into that, I’m sure it was just a coincidence…)

In the meantime I acquired a second hand sewing machine, watched the Great British Sewing Bee a lot and made a small bag for lego figures. I know I should copywrite that idea, but I don’t mind if you want to make one too – it’s too special not to share 😉

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Finally, after some internet searching I selected another sewing school to shut down attend. I picked a dressmaking class because…er…I wanted to make dresses. For some reason when I picked the class it didn’t occur to me that I’d actually be making a dress in the class.  When the realisation struck I was part delighted, and part overwhelmed by the responsibility of selecting a fabric. Cue more smirking from the other half what did you think you were going to be doing?!

I turned up on the first day of class with my lovely red fabric all washed, ironed and ready to go.  There were six of us there to learn together – all female, quelle surprise! The teacher was a fabulous lady who had not long finished a textiles degree, or something of that ilk. Much more importantly than actually, you know, being able to sew, she had a perfect temperament, and not once did I see her get stressed. Even when she pointed out I was about to sew backwards…and I managed to do it anyway.

The class took place over four weeks and in that time I learned how to cut out fabric using a pattern, how to pin (and how to stab myself with pins), I sewed seams, corners, hems, pockets and elastic, and I even got to use some interfacing stuff.  I learned (from experience) which side you iron it on, and that if you get it wrong then you actually end up ironing it onto the tea towel you’re using to protect it from the heat. I also learned that if you’re using a tea towel from home, don’t use one that you’ve dried in the next room to the kitchen because you’ll end up making your dress-to-be smell of onions.

While all that stuff was invaluable in terms of sewing experience, I had a fab time chatting away to other people that were equally as thrilled as I was to watch their fabric turn into something that hints at being wearable one day.  On top of the perk of sewing class getting me out of the post-bedtime tidy-up, it was great just to take some time out to immerse myself in something so completely different.

Despite being the dunce of the class – the others being motivated to develop a talent they actually had in the first place, opposed to me pursuing the goal of sustainable fashion – I thoroughly enjoyed building on my very limited skills and…did I mention…I made a dress!

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In the last class we finished up a bit early and sat about in our new dresses drinking fizzy grape juice in champagne glasses, and eating cake. There was joy in the room!

I was determined to actually wear the damn thing, despite the fact that it has the odd bit of clumsy stitching. It therefore got its first outing to the theatre, and its second to a kids’ party. I have received compliments on it – probably because it’s bright red and the first new thing I’ve modelled in over a year! Despite my decision that I’d be modest and not tell anyone of its origins, I’ve found myself blurting out ‘I made it!!!!’ if anyone so much as smiles at me while I have it on.

The reactions have been amazing. I think so few people make their own clothes these days that it’s big news to be wearing your own work. It makes me feel really proud, so much so that sometimes I even forget I’m holding my bag over a dodgy seam.

Dress number 2 is very nearly finished. It’s pretty much a carbon copy of the first one but in a different fabric plus without the pockets which are a bit tricky – I just wanted to have FUN! So far I’ve just bought fabric from my local fabric shop to enable me to get a feel for it, but my next step will be using this great post from Make Do and Mend-able to source ethical material.

I’ve got the sewing bug and ain’t nothin’ gonna stop me now!

Kicking off the sewing adventure

A while ago, I blogged about taking a sewing lesson. I really enjoyed it and, as a result, decided to buy myself a sewing machine.  I wasn’t confident about buying a second-hand machine (what if it didn’t work?) so I had planned to invest in a decent new one. I did my research and was on the cusp of making a purchase when I was invited to a party.

When the party night came, I wasn’t feeling in the party mood, but it was one of my good friend’s birthdays and I wasn’t going to let her down.  I reasoned with myself that I’d go and see how this experience was going to enrich my life – employ some positive thinking, if you will!

I’m glad I did – I bumped into an old friend I was in danger of losing touch with, a colleague from a decade ago, and…someone who was winding up a sewing school and had machines she was selling (that were still under guarantee!)

I am now, therefore, the proud owner of a lovely new (to me) machine that cost a fraction of what I was initially prepared to pay.  I even got a tutorial from the lady I bought it from, and she told me to phone her if I get stuck – I’m delighted 🙂

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This beauty has however been sitting in a box in the house for the past few months while the festive preparations of last month took priority. Unlike my knitting which I’m able to pick up and work on for 10 minutes at a time around the family, I knew the sewing machine was going to need a bit of my undivided attention (away from my children who are very keen to have a shot!)

Yesterday I had an hour and a half to myself in the house, so I wiped the glitter off our dining table (don’t ask!), and extended it so that I had plenty of space.  I then unpacked the sewing machine, gathered the stash of bobbins and thread that I’d been collecting in anticipation of this moment, and opened the manual.

It started reasonably well.  I managed to wind a bobbin.  I cut the thread in the wrong place and somehow the bobbin has two thread ends which will no doubt come back to haunt me, but I’m ignoring that at the moment… I then threaded the needle perfectly which was where I’d anticipated problems. My problem area was loading the bobbin into the ‘bobbin holder’.   As you can see, it’s the kind of holder that is erm…front loading?  as opposed to sitting in the bottom of the machine (I’m sure my terminology will improve in time).

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Instead of just taking the bobbin holder out of the machine to pop the bobbin into, I removed the other parts too and then just couldn’t get them back in.  Part of the problem was that I didn’t realise I’d taken too much out, and the manual wasn’t helping me as it had assumed a bit more intelligence on my part and didn’t cover my particular problem.

Determined that I was bloody well getting this machine working in my precious 90 minutes, I did what all the cool kids do, and got onto You Tube.  Within 5 minutes a lovely calm lady from America had solved all of my problems.

Thrilled, I proceeded, managing to get the thread ‘pulled up’ from the bobbin holder to beside the threaded needle, and then I sewed some stitches on scrap fabric. I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t exciting!

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Apologies for white thread on white fabric…

With my time just about up, I packed the machine back in its box and prepared a delicious nutritious dinner for my family in my last five minutes (okay, I actually scrubbed some baked potatoes, but that still counts…).

Join me for the next exciting instalment of my sewing adventure – coming soon!