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Friday, 16 October 2015

How to Make a Grocery Bag

The recent change in the law that means shops no longer give out plastic bags like they used to, has left me caught out a few times. Whilst I've had a big bundle of strong bags ready for the weekly shop for a while now, I haven't yet made the adjustment to taking a reusable bag with me every time I go to a shop. Yesterday, I got caught out in Wilko - arguably, I could have just paid 5p, or, bought myself a big reusable bag at the till. But instead, I stubbornly balanced everything under the buggy (goodness knows what I'll do for carrying stuff when Charlotte gets too big to need it) and headed home.

Last minute tea supplies  - pizza and chips!
Being a fabric fan, I wanted a prettier solution to the gap left behind by the disposable plastic bags at the tills, and here it is.

I was given this gorgeous Kokka print by my school mum friend, Leanne. I'd been saving it for I don't know what, and yesterday the penny dropped - I will enjoy the excuse to bring these dolls out with me wherever I go, so the humble grocery bag is not such an insult for good fabric after all.


You will need
Half a metre of some nice strong fabric
Optional - 35 cm x 15 cm piece of contrasting fabric for the pocket/storage bag
Optional - 30 cm bias binding to make the bottom corners tidy on the inside of the bag

Cut the pieces for the bag
Fold the fabric in half widthways, so that the selvedges match together. 
With double thickness, cut a 10 cm wide strip off the selvedges. You now have 2 pieces of fabric to make handles. 

Make the handles
Iron them in half lengthways. Unfold. Iron again, with the two raw edges folded in to the middle. Iron the two shorts ends under by 1 cm, so the wrong sides are touching. Now carefully fold everything in so that all raw edges are tucked neatly inside. Sew the handle shut by top stitching a big rectangle all the way round, about 2 mm from the edges. 

Make the bag
What is left from the half metre of fabric will form the bag. We are going to use French seams - if you haven't tried them before, you'll love them. Well, you'll feel pretty smug about how neat your finished bag looks on the inside. Keep the fabric folded in half (as it was for cutting the handles), wrong sides together. Sew the bottom and side, using a 5 mm seam. Trim any whiskery threads from the edges - you don't want them in your way for the next step. Turn the bag out, so the wrong side shows, poke the corners out, and give the whole thing a careful press. With a straight stitch length 2, stitch all three sides this time (adding in the folded side to the sewing process) with a 8 mm seam. 
Form the corners. Separate the sides by pulling them apart and squishing them to form equal sized triangles at the corners - a bit like a beach hut. You can choose any measurement you like for this step - I like the volume that 12 cm across gives the finished bag. Take time to carefully line up the bottom seam with the side seam - I find the easiest way is to hold the tip of the corner tightly, and then open up the bag and check the seams match nicely on the right side. Push the seams one either side of each other, so you share the bulkiness a bit. Pin and draw a line and sew across it. Chop off the excess fabric - tidy the raw edges by zigzag stitch, and, if you want to, binding them with bias binding. 
Form the top of the bag by pressing it under by 3 cm and then 3 cm again. Pin in place and put to one side while you make the inner pocket/storage bag.

The pocket/storage bag
Make a hem on one of the short edges of the pocket piece. If you want to embellish the pocket with any ric rac or pom pom trim (and why wouldn't you), now is the time to add it. Fold the fabric so it is almost in half, right sides together, but leave 3 cm sticking out on the short edge that has been left raw. Sew the sides and turn the pocket out. If you feel inclined to make a hook to hang your bag with when it is in its little storage bag, you can do this easily by sewing a piece of ric rac or ribbon in a loop pointing down on the back of the pocket (along the short raw edge).

Assemble the bag
Tuck the pocket inside the pinned hem at the centre of the top of one side of your bag. Pin in place, and sew all the way round the hem, keeping close to the bottom folded edge. I also top stitch close to the top edge of the bag, as I think it looks nice. Position your handles to wherever you like the look of them, making sure they are centred. Pin and sew in place, using the rectangle with a `x' through it design shown. 

Ta-dah! Now take your bag out shopping and show off at the tills. 

Now I need never be caught without a bag again
(until I forget the child and the buggy)
Admittedly, this is not the most complicated of things to make - and I am sure most people reading could work it out for themselves. But sometimes, it's nice to have the thinking done for you so you can just get on and make the thing, no? I hope you like the functional storage pocket - I'd love to see some pictures if you decide to add some pom pom or other joy to brighten up your grocery bag.

Monday, 5 October 2015

A beginner friendly sewing idea

Realising that just because you sew, you don't have to sew all the things all of the time, is a refreshingly sane mindset to adopt. I think this is particularly true when it comes to making presents for your children to take to the numerous birthday parties they get invited to once they start school.

Still, there are times when I really do want to make an exception to my go to present of a book or a book token, and get the sewing machine out. 

My eldest daughter's Bestie (her words), Freya, turned ten last week. Since the start of term, with their change of school, the two friends have been doing the thirty minute walk together, and this has both given me a lot of peace of mind, and, them the freedom to "talk about things we don't get to talk about when the grown ups are around", to quote my daughter. This made me laugh!

I knew I wanted to make Freya something personal, but didn't know what she'd like. A camp blanket for Brownies (the girls go there together) was her request - I quizzed her on what she wanted it to look like, and this is the end result.

I think that sewing a couple of big squares of fleece together, and adding a big letter to personalise the gift, counts as a super simple present idea, no?

It didn't take long to make at all - just a metre each of two different fleeces, sewn right sides together and then turned out through a little gap, and then top stitched. The thing that makes it special is the initial - which I glued on with Bondaweb, before top stitching it down. 

Working on the kitchen floor
Once I had made the blanket, I got the idea to use the little scraps (left from cutting out the F from the corner of the metre of fabric) to make a holder. Same method as the blanket, with a couple of buttonholes added.

And then, I got another idea to make a miniature sleeping bag and matching dress for Freya's toy mouse. 

She loved the presents. 

`Hello, Miss Mouse!'
And, so did my own big girl (and her sisters), so it looks like we'll be sitting down together to make mouse sleeping bags on the next rainy and dull weekend.

As for the blanket, I will probably make one like it again - either for another child who wants a camp blanket with their initial on, or, perhaps as a gift for a new baby. The personal touch is nice, and, babies are always being sick, so, from a practical point of view, a spare blanket is a handy thing to have.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Don't mention the C word, it's only September

Hello readers.

I've just finished making another covered notebook. If you've seen my previous posts on the subject, you'll know that this year I have set myself a challenge to raise money for WaterAid and The Salvation Army, by making notebooks to order.

This notebook was ordered by Suzy for her friend's birthday. Suzy told me that her friend likes bold florals, and that she is arty, and, called Louisa. I found some Liberty print that I thought fitted the brief, and customised a co-ordinating tea cup, before sewing it on to the cover, along with a cute little velvet bow to finish things off.

This was the 69th notebook I have made so far in 2015. Each one has been different - you can see them all on my kitchentablesewing Instagram feed.

Now that I've gone past my original target (which was 50), I'd like to see if I can get to twice that amount before the end of the year. It could be that someone reading feels like being uber organised with Christmas - this might be a nice gift for that person who is always tricky to buy for.

The way it works is pretty simple. Each notebook is made to order - you can have what you like on it. People email me their ideas, telling me who it is for (lots of the ones I've made so far have been birthday presents), and giving me ideas to go on. A £10 donation is made to the charities here, and then a separate £5 payment is made to me using Paypal, to cover the costs of whatever lovely fabrics have been chosen, and, the notebook itself. 

Talking of fabrics, I have quite a few to draw upon, if you give me general ideas of colours and style, and are happy to trust me to choose for you. But, if you have something really specific in mind, and aren't in a hurry, then please say in your email. The whole point is to end up with something you really like. I will look to keeping things relatively simple, and stick to just two suppliers for postage reasons - Fabric Rehab and Liberty fabric from Alice Caroline. I dare you to have a peek - there is so much to choose from, and something to suit even the hardest to buy for relative. 

With a view to Christmas orders, I'll make Tuesday 20th October my deadline (this gives me half term to make them, and, enough time before that to order specific fabrics). 

If you have already been one of my #notjustanothernotebook supporters, then thank you. You have made it possible for me to turn an hour of my time here and there into a charity pot that looks pretty decent, with £891.25 so far. Thanks for trusting me to make you something nice! :)

Want a notebook?

1. Email me at kitchentablesewing@gmail.com
2. Donate £10 here to WaterAid and The Salvation Army
3. Use Paypal to cover my costs


Thursday, 3 September 2015

Wild Things Fox Dungarees #MadeUp

It's a grey afternoon here in Bedford - the summer holidays are nearly at an end, and, I'll be honest and say that I am a bit relieved. The school holidays have provided us with some good times and happy memories as a gang - but, seven weeks is a long time to spend in each other's company, and, I think we're all ready for the change that a new academic year will bring us.

Four children to hang out with hasn't left a lot of sewing time, so I have been very selective about what I have commited to sew (no bad thing, eh?).

This fox likes buns!
My eldest girl spied the Wild Things book the day the postman delivered it six months ago, and didn't waste much time in putting in a request for fox dungarees. With summer approaching, the pressure to make an obviously warm looking garment out of corduroy wasn't too big - she settled for a promise that I'd make them in time for winter. When Karen launched her Made Up initiative, I knew I had found the perfect nudge to pull my finger out and get sewing. I donated, and pledged to make a pair of fox dungarees.

Fox dungarees for my own avid reader seemed like the perfect choice of project to sew in support of The National Literacy Trust. Like lots of you reading, this is a cause close to my heart.

As a secondary school teacher, I have encountered too many children who struggle to read properly. It makes them less confident in class, and this then often shows itself in the form of disruptive behaviour, in a desperate bid on their part to divert attention from the embarrassing reality that they just can't read well enough to participate fully with the lesson. This was one of many factors that inspired me and my husband to start our own secondary school five years ago - we wanted a school that would not give up teaching children to read until they were ace at it, and could go on to enjoy it as a positive thing to do for fun for the rest of their lives. 

As a mum, I cannot think of anything more magical than the process of watching my children turn into readers, Unlike a lot of things relating to parenting - feeding them, dressing them, potty training them, disciplining them - reading is something that has not lost any excitement in repetition. The year that each one goes to school, and then comes home with their very first reading book, and, progresses onto `proper, fat books' (as my third girl now says) is just brilliant each time. Typing this makes me tingle, and sort of strangely look forward to my littlest having her turn in a couple of years from now. (No, I take that back - stay little and cute with squidgy thighs for a bit longer, please, Charlotte.)

Anyhow, enough waffle. When Sophie asked me for the dungarees, I was chuffed that she wanted them. She is still a child, who asks me to make her playful clothes, and not remotely a fashion conscious teenager. Yet. Next summer, she will have grown out of these dungarees. Waaaaahhh. 

One sign she is growing up is the start of a new school routine next week. One that will involve cycling to and from school without any grown ups. She is excited about the freedom that is about to come her way - I'm doing my best to focus on preparing her properly, and not pass on my own natural fears about her gaining some independence. Hence the practise going on you can see in these photos. 

The dungarees were fun to make - and hopefully, the photos we snapped this morning show they are fun and practical to wear. The pattern instructs you to begin with the detailing - this takes a long time, but is worth it. As I was top stitching the face of the fox, I had a real moment of joy and was smiling at what I was making with my own hands. This is why I sew. Yes, I could have saved myself loads of time, and spent the cost of the book and fabric on buying one of Kirsty Hartley's stunning british made garments. The stitching quality would have no doubt been less shonky, and the end result just as cool to look at. But. I sew for pleasure - and, in this case, as a way of reminding my (sometimes stroppy) little biggest girl that I love her to bits.

Look, Karen! We borrowed a friend's dog, Sunny, so that Ella can enjoy reading this post. :)

Monday, 24 August 2015

Reversible Lilou Dress

Today is the start of the last fortnight of the summer holidays. It is chucking it down outside, and the sunny beachy days we spent in Devon seem like ages ago now. Luckily, we headed out into town before the rain, returning home with a massive bag full of (more) library books, and so the oldest three girls can get on with something on their own for a bit now that Charlotte is down for a sleep. There are some days when I make a point of filling the toddler free slot with something special - we've had our own attempts at Great British Bake Off, and, getting the paints out is another thing they love doing. But then, there are times when I fancy clawing back a bit of quiet time for myself during the day, and why not. 

I made this second Lilou dress a couple of weeks ago, and have been wearing it quite a lot. In fact, I have been wearing this or my Birthday Lilou Dress  rather a lot all summer. It turns out I love a dress with a bit of twirl!

After all the tweaking I did on the first version, I opted for a smaller size this time, and that has worked out nicely in terms of fit. I still shortened the straps slightly, and adjusted the position of the bust darts a little, but in general, a straight size 2 seems about right.

A Lilou made from navy blue linen has been in the  pipe line for me for a year now. I had cut it out last August, and then lost motivation to make a summer dress when the weather turned cooler. This bundle of cut pieces stayed in a cupboard as my guilty sewing secret. Enter the beautiful Anna Maria Horner voile that caught my eye when it was half price in town. I loved it, and bought a couple of metres for a dress. Once I'd made my first Lilou, I knew I wanted to make another one with the Anna Maria Horner fabric. Feeling a bit guilty about the navy linen, I had the idea to use it as lining. Hmm, but it seems a bit extravagant to use quite expensive linen for a lining. More guilt. And then. Bingo. A reversible dress. 

Here's how I tweaked things to make this dress reversible:

I cut skirt pieces for both fabrics (obvious, I know). I didn't trim the neckline of the lining (2mm trim to prevent it rolling). I did still do understitching, and opted to do this on the plain side, where I thought the stitches would be least obvious. This seems to have worked fine. When making the skirts, I was careful to treat them as two separate skirts for the pleating, as had I pleated the two fabrics as one, I would have been left with the pleats going the wrong way on one side. Once I was happy wth the pleats, I joined the skirts together, and sewed them to the navy bodice on my machine. I did it this way, because the linen was so much heavier, and I wanted the strongest set of stitching used to take the weight of the heavy fabrics. When it came to the edges, I left a seam allowance sized amount unstitched, and hand sewed the last bit, so that I could keep the two layers separate for the purpose of attaching the zip. I attached an invisible zip to the printed layer first, the reason being I wanted to match the patterns. 

The pattern matching didn't work out perfectly on the bodice, but I was pleased about the skirt! The it was time to hand sew the patterned bodice layer that was still loose to the skirts, and to hand sew the remaining linen back seam to complete the zip. After thinking about how best to make the reversible navy side zip look neat, I opted to accept I couldn't make it invisible as well, and just press and hand sew it as neatly as possible. Maybe if this had been planned to be reversible from the start, I would cut a little extra fabric on each side of the centre seam, to allow some sort of zip flap..? 

How is it possible that this still looks so crumpled after ironing?!
The other thing I'd watch out for more carefully next time round is accuracy over the hem. Both the skirts need to be exactly the same length, unless you want to make a point of say having the plain side showing slightly beneath the patterned one, which might look nice? I kicked myself for rushing this final part of the make - since the photos in the garden were taken, I have unpicked, ironed and carefully remeasured and hand sewn both hems. You can still see a little bit of the patterned fabric in the photo above, so I think a bit more adjustment is needed. You might also notice the length is shorted - that's entirely down to me carelessly ripping through some fabric during the process of correcting the hem - argh!!! As I prefer the patterned side, I might be lazy and leave the final tweaking job until the autumn, when the option of the navy with a tshirt underneath becomes an option I lean towards more often. 

I wore the dress patterned side out to the seaside last week, and I was happy to discover that the flimsy voile didn't result in any flashing whatsoever, thanks to being anchored by the heavy linen. I was able to walk along a breezy cliff top and not worry about flashing my knickers to the world. 

If you've got any tips on making things reversible, I'd love to hear them. 

All that's left for me to say is a thank you to my young photographers. Bye!

Friday, 14 August 2015

The pattern that changed my life

This month, I'm having a little dabble in Rachel's #sewphotohop on Instagram.

My favourite Coco.
I will weap (and hopefully find fabric to make another) when this top eventually dies a death...
It's working out to be a fun way of connecting with some of the other sewists out there, get a bit inspired, marvel at how different we are and yet how much we have in common, and, to be reminded once again how utterly lovely the online sewing community is.

Another favourite, usually worn with my red skinny jeans.
The fabric for both tops came from Kitschycoo.
One theme last week got me thinking - the pattern that changed my life. Hum... What would it be, I wondered? There have been so many things I have loved making, for different reasons. Could it be the coat I made earlier in the year - this was a big challenge and marked a big leap up in new sewing skills learned as a result. Or, how about my most recent make, the Lilou dress - which, made me realise how sewing could not only open up the possibility of gorgeous dresses at an affordable price, but, that upon wearing it, how flattering and good it made me feel, and how surprisingly comfortable it was for everyday wear.

Damn. That was another Kitschycoo fabric I couldn't resist in a late night fabric shopping spree (and no, this post is not sponsored!)
Then, I remembered. There was an obvious choice to be had - the Coco, of course.  Tilly's ever popular pattern marked a turning point for my own wardrobe, in that, for the first time, I realised I could sew the kind of clothes I wanted to wear every day. There was a real buzz amongst the online sewing community when this pattern was released - I totally got sucked into it, and before I knew it, I'd made several Cocos, both the tunic and the breton top style. At the last count, I have enough for a different Coco for each day of the week. The tops are perfect for wearing with jeans, and we all know that the dress just feels like you are wearing a nightie, right?

Sunshine Coco - made with Roma Pont from Guthrie Ghani, and, has my all time favourite sewing thing, Jumbo Ric Rac.
This version below is the only one where I stuck to classic breton stripes, and er, as some will spot, I quite blatantly took inspiration from Tilly's own mustard coloured pockets to add a bit of colour. Not one bit sorry.

As far as the sewing goes, this pattern was the one that made me realise that DIY clothing from jersey was achieveable. Using my normal sewing machine fitted with a ball point needle (and a twin needle if I felt like going all out on the professional looking stakes with some double stitched hems), it became possible to make an entire garment from start to finish in just a matter of hours. Hurrah to that!

When it comes to my the sewing courses I teach from my home in Bedford, I only ever choose things that I like to make myself. It won't come as a surprise, then, that when I sat down to plan out courses for the coming term, the Coco was high on my list. How could it not be? And, well... I may just need to make a new one as a sample...

There will be five places up for grabs on this course. Although the pattern is beginner friendly as a first adventure into garment making, I'd strongly recommend you have some sewing experience under your belt beforehand. This course is ideal for those who have been on my Complete Beginners' Course, and want to branch out into DIY wardrobe fun.

Alongside the Coco, I'll be bringing back the ever popular Complete Beginners' Course, and, running a second Megan dress-making course, after the success of the first one back in the spring.

Whether you're brand new to sewing, or, want to brush up and challenge yourself to start making clothing, there's hopefully something that might tempt you to join me this autumn. There'll be plenty of tea and yummy homemade cake, as usual.

Oh. And did I mention Liberty Knicker Making Workshops that will be popping up on a couple of Friday nights? How could I forget.

All the course and workshop date are here should you fancy booking yourself onto something nice to do when the nights are drawing in a bit.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Birthday Lilou Dress

There are only a couple of days until the summer holidays begin for us here in Bedford - I am so looking forward to them! The last few weeks of term have been chocablock with activity - a lot of them revolving around watching my children doing stuff, and, a lot of sewing based things, including
workshops and classes, and, a knicker making birthday party for me.

Birthday knickers, using Liberty tana lawn Alice in Wonderland collection
I made myself a dress in time for my birthday. Not thinking I'd ever find time to make a Lilou, as somehow the amount of effort I perceived to be involved seemed too much for me to want to begin the make, I tried a different approach.

I decided I would break the sewing up into little chunks of time. Half an hour here, an hour there... even a couple of early morning sessions in the days when the bright sunshine woke me long before the rest of the family needed me. Actually, I found this slot really satisfying - a calm and quiet house, I'd woken up naturally, and it felt great to opt to use the time to do something for myself.

So. The dress, I used the Tilly and the Buttons Lilou pattern, from Love At First Stitch. I've been meaning to make one for over a year now, but, as already mentioned, never quite found the motivation.

The pattern is for a lined bodice, although I opted to fully line the skirt, too. I really like the extra fullness this gives the finished dress.

I cut a size 3, and took a risk not to make a toile first. This worked out alright in the end... but a lot of unpicking and adjusting happened along the way. I moved the bust darts up about a centimetre or so, and the waist darts in a little bit. I also took 1.5cm off the shoulders. All this improved the final fit a lot - it still isn't perfect, but I am happy enough with it. I think I really should have remeasured myself at the start of the process, rather than rely on the measurements I had taken a year ago when I first thought about making this dress!

On a measuring and ever changing body shape note, I have recently been fitted for new bras - the first time since having my fourth baby (who has just turned 2) - and let's just say that was a pretty sobering experience, huh? Still, focus on the positive and all that, and, remind self that I am not defined by my ability to look anything like I did ten years ago.

I roped in my middle two girls to be my photographers on this occasion. This was not without the predictable attempts to photo bomb and squabble about who should be taking the pictures.

The making was coming together so nicely. I had inserted the invisible zip with it looking pretty darn invisible, and was thinking about hemming, when I spotted the back of the bodice had a strange twisting on one side. You would wonder why on earth I had not spotted my glaringly obvious mistake sooner, but I had somehow managed to sew the right hand back bodice lining round the wrong way - that is, the side seam was where the zip was. Argh.

Three hours of careful unpicking and remaking later, and the dress was back on track. As I often say to my beginners who come to my sewing lessons, your mistakes are often your best lessons - I won't be making that one again!

I have worn this a few times now - and really love swishing about in it! For someone who has a waist two sizes bigger than her bust and hips, this makes me feel very feminine shape wise, all thanks to that lovely full pleated skirt.

I have got plans to make another two of these - one in a navy linen, and another in some lush Anna Maria Horner voile I got half price in Beales in town. Now that I have put in all the effort with fitting, and know how much I like wearing this style of dress, the prospect of making more is really appealing.

Before I can return to dressmaking, I have some sewing requests to come good on. Three more hats, like the one Charlotte is sporting.

Can't say I blame them - I was half thinking about making myself a rainbow sunhat, so can totally see the appeal it has for little people. So much colour and fun. Sunshine, I dare you not to come out with these hats about. Actually I take that back. Please shine. We have plans of things to do, involving picnics in the parks, bikes rides, plenty of ice cream eating and sandcastles. Oh, and squeal inducing swimming in the sea. Yes. Bring on the sunshine and the summer holidays.

Happy summer, lovely readers!