Wednesday, 9 April 2014

GBSB and Any chance to talk about myself

First, to avoid spoilers in the main body of the text, I will just say: the Great British Sewing Bee finale! What did you think?

Second, Michelle at Happily Caffeinated and Nakisha at Sew Crafty Chemist both named me for a Liebster Award! Thank you both, ladies! :D I am not super excited about naming additional bloggers, because, frankly, most people whose blogs I read do not read mine and I have no way of knowing how many followers they have anyway. However, since I never pass up an opportunity to talk about myself, here are some answers to their questions (there was some overlap between them).

1. How long have you been sewing and what was the first garment you made?/How did you start sewing?

I did the usual Home Economics classes at secondary school from age 11 to 13, but I have an odd learning quirk. Overall, I've always been really comfortable in traditional classroom environments, as my academic record and four degrees attest. However, I really REALLY don't enjoy learning hands-on skills in classroom settings at all, and never have. The pace is never right, or we get too much time to work on our own or too little, or there's either too much instructor led content or not enough. So, I really didn't like home economics, despite the fact that 2/3rds of the curriculum was cookery and I already liked to cook before I started classes. I ended up giving it up as soon as I could (after 2 years) and that was pretty much it for any kind of formal sewing lessons (and it's also the reason why I've not done any since. It just doesn't work for me as a way to learn).

However, both before and after that, I watched my mum sew for pretty much my whole life. She's a former home economics teacher herself, and although she didn't do all that much sewing after my childhood, she did enough that it was a pretty familiar activity, and she would always answer questions and explain what she was doing if I asked (and I am the sort of person whose every question starts with "why..."). I know watching isn't the same as doing, but there are a lot of things you learn from years of just observing that I am not even totally able to articulate. I never wondered, for example, how best to feed fabric through the machine, or how to thread the machine, because I had watched my mum do it a million times.

I didn't personally really sew again until August 2011, an interval of... well, really a lot of years. What started me off was really a combination of things. First, I'd been on a kind of interior design kick for at least a year, in terms of blogs and websites I was spending time reading, and books I was buying. I was really into thinking about mixing fabrics and colours, and yet I had no real outlet for any of this because I wasn't living somewhere that I could redecorate and didn't really have any financial resources for interior design anyway. Second, though, I am interested in issues around feminism and body image, and one thing that kept coming up was about how people whose images we see in media have all their clothes tailored, and this is why everything fits them in ways that clothes do not fit us plebeian types who buy and wear straight off the rack. I don't think the intended outcome of these articles was ever to make people want to sew, but I kept thinking well, if the fit they get is so amazing from tailoring off-the-rack clothes, why don't I do that for myself?

 And yet, once I took the plunge and bought a machine and some fabric, I did something completely different again, and started out by sewing bags and accessories exclusively. I then branched out into garments after about 9 months. The first garment I made was this black and white top using New Look 6025, which I think I maybe wore once. The progression from bags and accessories to clothes was really about need (I don't need a million bags and though I have an Etsy shop and do sell some, I don't turn over enough bags that I could keep sewing at the rate I was sewing at the time without stockpiling epic numbers) and the desire to keep learning. The reality of bags is that you hit a point on a learning curve and then there's really nowhere else to go without getting into leather, which is difficult for multiple reasons as a home sewer. Starting to sew clothes is a whole new learning curve, and a much steeper one, particularly if, like me, your ambitions frequently outrun your abilities.

2. Lately, it seems like everyone has been starting their own pattern company. If you launched your own indie pattern company, what would your focus(es) be?

Plus size! I've talked about this a lot before. If I won the lottery and could do anything I wanted, I'd start two businesses: a plus-size boutique in my home city, with really beautiful, high-quality clothes for younger plus-sized women, and a pattern company that produced similar patterns. In my life, I've been every size between a UK 10 and a UK 26, and although most recently I've settled more or less into the generally well-served UK 14-16 range, I know perfectly well what it is like to try to shop when you're in the full-on plus size range. As a young, plus-size career woman, I really REALLY struggled to find clothes, especially for work, because what was on offer was so often either overly casual (from places like Evans) or else it was too matronly (from Elvi or Ann Harvey). I think there's a huge market for the younger (say 20s/30s), professional plus-size woman who has a decent income but is struggling to find the kind of high quality clothes that she wants to invest in, especially tailoring and coats. Plus, she wants cute, trendy pieces to go with her work basics (pretty blouses and tops for example) plus she wants to be able to walk into a shop and have choices for going out on the weekend. On the pattern side, I'd definitely want to stick to that model too: a mix of classic tailoring pieces like blazers -- you'd have to do several kinds of jackets to suit the different kinds of figures that "plus-size" includes -- and things like trousers and skirts, flattering tops that aren't sacks or tents, and so on.

As you can tell, I've given this a lot of thought. Sadly, where it all falls down is that (a) I know nothing about clothes retailing; (b) I can't draw a stick man without a ruler and have zero pattern drafting knowledge; and (c) I do not have all the money in the world. But yes, if I did win the lottery, I really would do this, because I would hire people to do the parts I can't who were just as passionate about serving the plus-size market and want to serve it well and positively. And I *am* passionate about it, which is why I talk a lot about plus-size patterns in the magazines and so on even when I am not, myself, at present in that size range.

3. What are your favorite projects that you've sewn?

I made this grey denim bag as a gift for my sister-in-law in December 2012. It took FOREVER, at least 25 hours, and it was incredibly hard work because the fabric was so thick. It's probably, in terms of sheer number of pieces (over 60, including interfacing), the most complicated thing I've made, even though none of the sewing was particularly complicated. I very nearly didn't give it to her because I loved it so much when I was finished. It's probably my favourite thing that I've made, although some of my other handbags from my first year of sewing run a close second in the bag category.

Garment-wise, I don't know that I have a favourite! I feel like I am such a beginner still that everything has too many flaws to really love it to the point of saying it's a favourite. That said, I'm loving the finish I'm getting on my most recent makes, particularly the Paula Pleat skirt and arched-top godet skirt I made recently.

4. What do you like the most and the least about blogging?/What do you enjoy most about blogging?

I like that blogging gives me an outlet for the things I want to talk about. The fact is that I have pretty much no real-life friends or acquaintances with whom I can talk about sewing as much as I want to talk about sewing. I do have several crafty friends, but their interests differ from mine in a lot of ways and they are perhaps not quite as INTENSELY interested in sewing as I can be. Blogging allows me to talk about sewing never-endingly and in as much detail as I want because, with all due respect to the people who read this, I don't really write for other people. And yet, that's also what I don't like about blogging: talking to the void. I'm terrible at leaving replies on other people's blogs, but at the same time I love talking to the people who comment on mine.

5. Do you have any random talents that your blog readers wouldn't know about?

I'm actually a good cook! I'm thoroughly domesticated really.
6. Stash Containment: Do you (fabric) stash and if so, how is it contained?
I do! I am a terrible fabric stasher. At the moment, I keep my stash in big plastic tubs in my spare room/sewing room, which you can see in this photo. I waver never-endingly between wanting to have a very small stash and wanting to buy more and more and more lovely fabric, just in case there is ever a fabricpocalypse and all I am left with is my stash.
7. Are you a planner or do you sew whatever strikes your fancy?
More of a planner. I spend a lot of time planning my sewing and thinking about what I want to make and do, with all sorts of criteria in mind (increasing my skills, managing my wardrobe, using particular patterns and fabrics, etc). I'm really utilitarian in some ways and that nudges me towards planning. I want to make things that I want and need, that can become a part of my daily wardrobe or fulfill some specific purpose if not a daily one (e.g I made that outfit for a wedding, and even though I never wore the skirt or jacket again, I feel like they were moderately successful). Last year, I tried out making co-ordinated mini-wardrobes, and there's a part of me that still loves that idea as well as the SWAP thing for sewing. However, I also make things occasionally on a whim, even if I do tend to post-rationalize and figure out a way that I 'needed' a particular thing I decided to make. On the other hand, sometimes I make and dismantle plans over and over and over without ever allowing needle to touch fabric.
8. Are you a "selfish seamstress" or do you sew for others?

Mainly selfish! I've made gifts, like the denim bag, in the past, but didn't find it super rewarding. I feel like I appreciate my own sewing more than other people do, and given the time constraints I operate under I'd rather sew for my most appreciative audience: myself. To be fair, I also don't come under a lot of pressure to sew for others, so I am free to be as selfish as I choose.


  1. Yay!!! One should always talk about one's self. No? hahaha!

    That was fun to read! I really love that bag and if I had an ounce of patience and the ability to sew a bag, I'd make one. I screwed up royally on a pouch. A little 2x3 inch pouch...Meh.

    1. Oh and I found episodes 1-3, 5 and 6 online. I still haven't found episode 4 and haven't made it to 7 or 8. So don't tell me! :)

      I LOVE (read: **~*~~*~*~*~*~love!!!!!!*~*~*~*~*~*~*~) the GBSB!!!

    2. In my opinion, little stuff like a 2x3 pouch is WAY more difficult than bigger bags. It's so fiddly and awkward, especially if you're putting a zip in to such a small item!

      I love the GBSB as well -- you're going to love those last two eps when you get to them! :D

  2. That bag is gorgeous! And I love how much thought you've put into your theoretical plans for a plus sized boutique/pattern line. You addressed something that I've rarely seen mentioned elsewhere--that different styles are flattering on different plus sized figure types.

    1. Thanks! :D I think the first indie that makes a serious, genuine attempt to create a plus-size sewing pattern line, which recognizes that plus-size women come in a variety of shapes and offers something more interesting than the Big 4 will do really well. It's an obvious gap in the market and it's historically seriously underserved.

    2. Right? And someone to offer cup sizes over a D/DD! (I think there are two McCall's patterns that go up to a DDD in the plus range, and that's about it.) I know that not all plus sized women are large busted, but *most* of the ones that I see who'd I'd estimate wear above a US RTW size 16/18 look like they are usually *at least* a DDD cup. /rant

    3. Oh man, yes. Cup size options that start at maybe a C or D and go up to a G or H on certain types of really problematic patterns, like a button down blouse. I'd buy one like a shot!

  3. Great post! Thanks for sharing, i love the part about watching your mum sew. This is why apprenticeships work but often the apprentices don't realise it till later. And the whole sushi master thing - don't the apprentices sweep up for five years before they touch the food, or something?

    1. Thanks! I definitely think I learned a lot from just watching my mum, even though I still had a big learning curve when I started sewing myself.