Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane


Holly Rose

After last week’s regimented sewing time, this last week was slightly unusual.

I accompanied 24 students into the wilds of the Mourne Mountains for three days: no mobile signal, no Internet, no TV, radio or most of anything linked with the 21st century. My goodness, how will we cope? We did however, have hot and cold running water, a roof over our heads, beds and en-suites and tonnes of food, which definitely helped.


Well, of course everyone survived. Which just goes to prove beyond absolute doubt that Instagram/Snapchat/Facebook/Pinterest/Blogger/Wordpress/Google/Bing/Android/i-anything/email/etc,etc,etc may be wonderful thingies but in reality do not enable us to survive!


The girls were absolutely frantic, they just kept staring at their blank phone screens at any and every available moment like a signal might miraculously appear while the boys just sort of went “Yeah, no signal, OK. Got a football?”.


Anyway, while they all went off hillwalking, kayaking, bouldering, mountain biking and other things involving fresh air, I sat on my well padded backside padding it a little bit more doing a constructive project – hand sewing.

BTW – I never take my students out unless the rain stays away and the sun shines – I’m lucky that way – Jinkes !!

A colleague had a baby in early September, well actually, his wife did.

14433048_10210567245760386_5165385499060978708_nI had already completed the quilt top awaiting the imminent arrival and it just needed quilting and binding – this was my hand work for three days. Hand quilted, the binding hand sewn and all completed in time for coming home on Friday to Wi-Fi, email, Facebook and all the other sh**e.


The pattern for the quilt top is Jelly Roll Jam 2 . Sorry, I can’t remember the fabric but you might just be able to see pine trees, birds, bees and tents – all outdoor things.

The other side is backed with birds.

20161021_11380720161021_113815With the fabulous backdrop of the Mourne mountains here’s Holly’s quilt which is also in part a memory quilt for her father who went hillwalking and camping before Holly was born. I don’t believe he reads this blog so we’re safe.

James,  it will be years and years before you you can venture up the Mournes again……….


I hope Holly loves the quilt –  James, but I’m sure you love her way more.




Day by Day

Many of you comment how productive I am on the sewing front. I really appreciate each and every comment but I’ve never seen myself as being a quick sewer or producing a lot. If I don’t reply to individual comments please don’t take it personally – it means I’m busy, that’s all. Wendy from Boulder, Colorado sews for a living as does Mrs Mole; they have to calculate how long a job is going to take and charge accordingly. If you’d asked me how long a dress or pair of trousers takes me to sew, I wouldn’t have a clue.

I do sew, or do sewing related activities, nearly every day: sometimes I can relish in a dedicated couple of hours but often there’s only 15 -30 minutes available. Sometimes my sewing time is split over the day with a little bit here and little bit there. So this week I documented the making of a shirt, as much for your insight into my sewing week but also for me……….

Before Starting

dscn6610Fabric is draped on Doris for a day or two to help determine how it handles and what it should be transformed into. This helps me to visualise a finished garment and how much fabric I have to play with. When not staring at Doris, as I drive to work or go to sleep I’m thinking about patterns and design options. Once a decision has been reached – I stick to it and believe me, not all decisions are good ones!

Today we are focusing on the patterned piece under the mustard wool. A viscose jersey from Fabworks in mustard and pale lilac that I’m hoping will look like grey when worn with the right clothing. A retro 1950s design and would be probably be best used in a 2-way stretch pattern but I decided on a button down shirt.

Monday – 1hr, 45mins

Before going to work, I cut out the pattern pieces from the envelope and folded the fabric selvage to selvage. 15 mins.

Home from work and dinner in the oven, pinned the pattern to the fabric. 30 minsdscn6650

After dinner and a nap, back to sewing room to cut out the pieces.  Big scissors were then put away and small ones out, needles threaded with contrasting colour and settled down to tailor tack with radio on. Pattern pieces removed, darts pinned and a general tidy up.

Pieces pinned onto Doris. Nothing sewn. 60 mins.


Tuesday – 20mins

Really heavy day at work – knackered. Cut out interfacing and just about managed to iron it onto the relevant pieces.  dscn6659Scanned the instructions in case there are any surprises. Threaded the machine and a bobbin. 20 mins.

Wednesday – 1 hr

At long last, sewing actually begins in the evening. Machined all the seams I could. This is where my sewing technique might slightly differ from others’. I don’t always follow the prescribed sewing order: after sewing all the darts for example, I then completed the sleeve seams and made the upper collar. I can go no further until the pieces are pressed. 60 mins


Thursday – 1hrs, 50 mins

Before dinner (leftovers, so I have more sewing time) I began with pressing all yesterday’s sewing. 20 mins

After dinner, back to the machine to complete any other sewing that needs to be done; button bands, shoulder seams and collar attached. Then the machine is pushed aside and everything that needs hand slip stitching is done – inside collar, sleeve vents. Bit more pressing and everything pinned back onto Doris. 1hr, 30 mins


Friday – 2hrs

Before dinner, sewed side seams and pinned in sleeves. 20 mins

After dinner, sewed in sleeves (one ripped out and sewed again, so that makes three!). Attached cuffs. Pressed. 1 hr.

Personal fitting: sleeves are too long so have created a design feature of folded back cuffs. I had already added 2″ to the length at cutting out stage and am happy with this. 10 mins.

dscn6670Searched in notions box for suitable buttons and found some forgotten items and interesting things, procrastination activity. 30 mins


Saturday 1hr, 45 mins

Morning time in my jammies slipped stitched cuffs; made button holes, sewed on buttons. 1 hr

Before lunch sewed hem and pressed finished shirt. 45mins. And it took 3/4 of an hour to run a straight seam around the bottom of this shirt because….


I swear the two fronts were the same length before I sewed the buttons on…..


Wearing and photos


Total time = 7hrs

Fabric =£14.00 – 2 metres @£7.00 (Fabworks – superfine gauge single jersey in a lustrous and slinky, fluid viscose and elastane blend, printed with a Bloomsbury/modernistic style)

Time = £70 (@ £10p/hr)

Pattern = McCalls M6649 free with an Craftsy class that cost $19.99 (about £100 at today’s exchange rate!) or $12.50 for the pattern alone.

Total materials and making = £94.00

Sunday night – Write and publish. Go to sleep planning next project.


Monday – Cut out something else……….





Toni 3 with Mods

It’s a Toni Jim, but not as we know it……

First one was as per pattern: second one was as per pattern with the centre front seam left open.

Third one is this…..


The other day I went away for the weekend to the north coast where I met a fabulous lady from America. I’ve now met two fabulous ladies from America who read this blog, sew and travel. They don’t specifically  travel to Ireland just to see me of course but it’s always nice to combine the two. Are all ladies who sew fabulous in America?

Wendy is from Boulder, Colorado (which I thought only existed in the Westerns). She teaches classes from a beautiful fabric shop and also sews very special things for a select client list. Her work is fabulous – can I use that word again without losing its potency?  But truly, her jackets are tailored but not conventional, little personal touches that elevate the wearer to absolute uniqueness: mostly sewn in silk or linen, always muslined first and lined. She makes her own patterns and is a living, breathing, walking encyclopedia about fabrics, style, techniques and colour. Wendy is building a website at the moment and I can’t wait to show you her work when it goes live.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, knowing that we were meeting, Wendy carried all the way from Boulder a length of fabric just for me. Truly kind. I’m rarely gifted fabric but when I am I always feel a little pressured into making something  special with it.

I received about 2.5m of burn-out cotton/poly jersey, very akin to a Marcy Tilton fabric. One side is pure grey, the other is black with random circles cut out to reveal the grey backside. You know how I love my greys…….

I really wanted to maximise all the fabric in one garment and decided a top/T-shirt just wouldn’t do. I opted for a winter version of StyleArc’s Toni dress, with modifications.


First, I lobed off the pointy bits at the sides – mainly to fit on the fabric and secondly because the drapes just don’t work.

I also cut the back on the fold to avoid the centre back seam ruining the circles.


I used the ‘wrong’ side of the fabric for the collar and eliminated the in-seam pockets in preference for front patch ones.It would be really good if both pockets lined up…..duh!


I added full length sleeves by just using the pattern as a cutting guide at shoulder height and shaping down the width to fit my wrists – essentially two rectangles. And when folded back the insides match the collar and pocket tops.

It’s loose and long and I just adore the collar. Housewifey with a touch of elegance. So easy to wear – pair of boots and you’re ready!


The dress still has flare and drape even without the pointy bits but somehow is also elongating and skims the body without bulk or being baggy.


Thank you very much Wendy . This dress will (has) become a very firm wardrobe favourite.


I Can Kantha 2

With the seasonal transition fully fledged I bought another Kantha quilt to cut up and sew into a long, loose coat-like thing. First one here.

This quilt is mainly blue and white with a little bit of green in the border; plain blue back and those fabulous hand wrought running stitches.

The pattern chosen is from The Pattern Company – a German company who have thousands of patterns online. The only gripe about the Internet site is that the pictures are too small when scanning for designs.

Anyway, this is not a new pattern but one I’ve made before way back in 2012 as a summer-weight raincoat. This newer version was hacked and lengthened and widened and actually bears no resemblance to the original at all.



Makes me wonder why I used a pattern at all!


The finished coat has that unique hand-made wonky look which is a combination of the original fabric and my rather laissez-faire approach to pattern cutting……

The coat is reversible so the seams were flat-felled.


Side seam: flat-felled

I managed to place the pattern pieces so that I could use the original hand sewn edge finish of the quilt as my hem on both the body and the sleeves.


And today has the perfect conditions I envisioned for this coat – clear blue skies, brilliant sunshine but with that nip in the air that reminds us that it’s now time to pack away the cotton skirts and sleeveless sundresses.


As usual, I can’t bear to not use any viable leftover fabric, so I sewed the remnants together and made a long scarf, which could also act as a belt should I ever desire.


To make pockets that are accessible from both sides on reversible coats/jackets see here.

In summary, make a window-pane opening with a flap or welts on one side and on the reverse add a patch pocket positioned to cover the messiness of the welts on the inside. One pocket- two openings.

My sleeves are too long but that’s the result of using the original edges of the quilt. I usually fold them back to reveal the plain blue insides, or if wearing the other way, the border pattern.


The hand running stitches are a pattern all on their own and too good to hide away.

Underneath the coat today is Bootstrap skinny jeans and a RTW vest. I think of this coat as a dressing gown that is perfectly acceptable to be worn outside in public but it has that homely, comfort feeling – just like wearing ‘a quilt’!

I certainly could have made it a lot narrower and more fitted and it probably would have looked ‘more polished’ but with this style I can wear sweaters underneath and still slip it on. Personally, I like the looseness as it retains some of the original quilt qualities – wrapping up in comfort. It also bellows out majestically behind me when I stride along.


Sewing projects are slightly on the back foot at the moment as the new term settles in and the better part of my time is spent on salary paying duties. However, just because I’m not producing finished  items to wear, rest assured I am scheming and planning and watching everything you produce……..sewing by proxy!


The Right Tools

I’ve never really understood the joy and enthusiasm some of you have for old sewing machines – you take pics and write posts extolling the virtues of dusty, creaky, black and gold machines and think they’re brilliant. You add them to your armoury and I’ve really no idea if you ever actually use them or why on earth you would buy another machine when you have a fully functioning one already.

I’ll be honest, at best I merely scan such posts and mostly I just skip them: until now…..

My mother LOVES auctions; real live auctions not sterilised eBay, but the type held in wood-clad, stale-cigarette smoke and furniture polish aromatic warehouses with real live characters and stuff you can touch and smell and see before you bid. We’re not talking Sotherby’s or Christie’s  here but mainly local house clearances and bankruptcy sales. There’s not a week goes by that she’s not on the phone asking if there’s anything I need. Actually, there’s nothing I need, I really and truly have everything and very much more but I try to keep my Mother happy so I say something like a “Ming dynasty blue and white serving dish”, or “Clarice Clef tea pot” or “Louis XIV footstool”, knowing fine well that these items will never appear in a local auction house but at least it gives her something to look for.

This week’s phone call asked if I wanted another sewing machine as there was one was listed in the local auction house catalogue. It’s lovely that she supports my hobby and wants to help but I don’t have the space nor the inclination for more stuff.

“Thanks, Mummy but no thanks. I have a machine and it works perfectly well. Why would I want another?”

“Well, you just might.”

“What kind is it?”

“Don’t know, it’s just listed as a Frister and Rossman.”


I left the option open……

Long story short I am now the very proud owner of a vintage Frister and Rossman 45 model II. A bit Internet research places said machine circa 1970. The best bit is that it’s heavy duty, manually operated and I’m guessing will sew through at least three layers of sheet metal if I want it to. And I now completely understand the desire for vintage machines.

It has that lovely ‘beat up’ look; a bit of paint chipped off, a few knocks and dents but in my eyes that only adds to its ugly beauty. Made of real wood and metal, it weighs about seven tonnes and I either need to do more arm exercises at the gym or enlist assistance to lift it onto the table.


My Father bought a new bulb – thank you dad! It has the grand stitching repertoire of forwards, backwards and zigzag. It also came with a little bundle of bobbins, tools, oil, brush and feet.


Isn’t wood lovely? I’ve found an instruction manual online – thank you whoever put that up.

A bit of online research discovered that Frister and Rossman are (were) a German company and with a bit of guessing, this machine heralds from around 1970. Nothing like  German engineering – best in the world and will last forever.

There are  Flash Gordon knobs and levers so that alone makes it brilliant – no computer beeps and bloops just clunky operator choices and no Error messages if you forget to lower the presser foot – it lets you make mistakes!


So what’s the point in having such a basic workhorse of a machine?

Well, a few years ago (exactly four) I started a pair of leather trousers. I had to abandon them because my perfectly functioning Janome TXL607 would not sew through the layers – skipped stitches and no stitching at all in some places.  In sheer frustration I started glueing the pieces together which is never a good idea for clothes. The half completed legs were rolled up (never fold leather), stuffed in a plastic bag and have lain at the bottom of the fabric box for four years. However, with that external motor, no computer telling me that I can’t do it and a new leather needle inserted I might just get to finish them.


Would you believe it?                  An actual  pair of leather trousers!

As a pair of leather jeans they’re really really bad: as my first pair of leather jeans they’re brilliant!

The pattern used was my Jeanius draft of a pair of Armani Jeans, next time I’ll be using Bootstrap skinny jeans as there is absolutely no alterations needed for fit.

What’s wrong? A lot.

Back pockets were glued in place years ago and are now double stitched to compensate for crappy modern sewing machine efforts.They’re also positioned too low.

Mismatched back yokes (there’s six layers of leather at that join).

Twist in left leg inside seam???? And the inside finish is shameful.

What’s good?

A completed pair of five pocket jeans, a working fly zip…



…..and I can get into them.


I’m tempted to call these ‘a muslin’ but as they’re made from leather it is hardly an appropriate term – let’s call them a ‘learning’ experience – both material and machine.


Best way to press leather is to wear it; any wrinkles or creases tend to work themselves out with body heat and natural stretching. I’m also assured that with enough wear, the leather trousers will take on your shape for good or ill.

You only get once chance to sew leather as those needle / pin holes are there forever.


And …. my mother is now on the look out at the auctions for a sturdy table on which to place my new vintage sewing machine and I’m on the look out for more hides!