"" the girl who makes things: September 2014

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Hello Lisbon, hello fabric shops

Ola! Greetings from my small room in Lisbon. I wasn't going to write another post this week but I just had to vent my excitement about the fabric shops in Lisbon! Before we came, I did a little research into places I could shop. I won't reinvent the wheel, as these ladies have already covered most of the places around:

Nicole Needles
House of Pineiro
Moo I Made It!

I scouted out a lot of the shops they mentioned, the first one being Feira dos Tecidos. I had a little perusal around the enormous shop floor. There were stacks upon stacks of reasonably priced fabrics from cotton lawns to pleather. An absolute Aladdin's cave. I would have looked for longer but I got the devil stares from boyfriend who reminded me that I'd have plenty of time to visit in the future. True dat.

Paris em Lisboa shop in Chiado
image from: http://www.golisbon.com/shopping/handicrafts.html

I didn't get to look at the other shops but there seems to be a whole street of haberdashery which I'll visit next time I'm in the city centre.

I can't wait to start sewing again. Hopefully I'll have some Lisbon goodies to show you in the not too distant future.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Goodbye UK!

So, on the eve of finding out whether this country will continue to be the UK as we know it, my boyfriend and I are saying goodbye to our hometown Leeds and taking off to Lisbon, Portugal. Lest I get overly emotional, I'll keep this post short and sweet.

Leeds Town Hall

It's hard to say goodbye to a city I've grown to love. I've always been a Yorkshire girl and despite my frequent moanings about the terrible weather, this really is a beautiful part of the world and I'll miss it.

I honestly don't know what the next few months are going to be like. I guess it'll be a crazy time with lots of adjusting to the new environment. I'm excited though. I'm excited about the new people I'll meet, the new city I'll get to know and the new language I'll (hopefully) get a chance to learn.

There's one thing that won't change though: this blog. The power of the internet is that I can take this amazing sewing community with me anywhere in the world. Me and my little red sewing machine will continue to make content for this blog so I ain't goin anywhere yet!

The only downside is that I won't get another opportunity to meet the wonderful bloggers I've met in the past few months. Of course I'll also look on enviously as the London and Birmingham meetups happen. But then again, there's always opportunities to for meet ups in the future when I come back to England. And who knows, I might even find an untapped group of Portuguese sewcialists to hang out with.

I have two more makes to blog about - I'm just waiting to get them photographed and then they'll be up. From now on you'll be seeing me set against the backdrop of Lisbon. In fact I might even take this blog in a slightly different direction and include some more posts about Portuguese culture. You know, just to mix things up a bit. So for now my friends, adeus! See you on the other side.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The story of a little blue dress

Oh my goodness, time is ticking away - I can't believe that this time next week I'll be in Portugal! I feel completely under prepared and I'm absolutely bricking it. The only thing that's been calming my nerves is sewing, but even then I'll have to pack away my sewing machine and overlocker *sob*. I'll have to cope with sewing on my tiny little portable sewing machine for the next few months/year so I won't be able to make anything heavy weight or complicated. I should hopefully still be able to make shirts - I really want to make an Archer now. Anyways, after the selfless act of making a shirt for my boyfriend I decided to default to my favorite kind of project - a dress for me.

Here's the story of this lil number: I decided I wanted to make a new dress for drinks with friends on our last night out in Leeds so I chose Vogue 8766 the straight skirt version with short sleeves. I already had it in my stash from making the bridesmaids dresses and it's a really versatile pattern (maybe a contender for the next owop?). I've used this pattern a couple of times so I have the bodice pretty much down pat. I headed to Leeds market for some reasonably priced fabric and found the perfect plain black stretch cotton. Then I saw some floral patterned stretch cotton. My mind went "plain black, sensible choice.... pretty pattern, but I'll never wear it.... plain black, boring.... pretty pattern, interesting.... pretty pattern, pretty pattern, pretty pattern...." and yes, I persuaded myself into the patterned fabric.

Readers, do you ever have this problem with dressmaking? I know that I like wearing plain fabric so why do I always buy patterned fabric? I mean I do like to wear florals, usually for special events and weddings, but on a day to day basis, I'm quite low key. I like my stripes and block colours but I just can't do the whole busy vintage flowers thing - some people can pull it off, I can't. So why oh why do I always buy floral fabric?? Anyway, I did persist with this make in the hope that I'd like it more once it was made up. This is how it looked:

The more I wore it around the flat, the more I began to feel like a member of the Von Trapp family, gallivanting around in the living room curtains singing Doe a Deer. Really floral fabric, however pretty, always makes me feel a bit silly. I didn't want to bin this make, the fit is actually really nice, so turned to the only other option I felt I had: black dye.

I dyed a tester piece of fabric first, just to see what happened to the pattern. The pattern still showed through but everything was just dulled down to a dark blue which I was quite happy with as I wear a lot of blue. I chucked the whole dress in with the dye and then gave it a wash. The result is what you see now.

Other deets about this dress: I fully lined it with some brown polyester I had in my stash which I needed to use up. I changed the neckline to make it wider and higher at the front and scoped out the back. I also inserted an invisible zip (nearly all of my dresses have them as I find them easy to insert now). In fact it used to take me ages to do invisible zips, but this time it didn't take me long at all and it's pretty much perfect - the waist seam lines up and everything. I like to think this is a sign of just how far I've come with sewing.

I'm really happy with the results and I think I'll get a lot of wear out of this dress. In fact if you're wondering why the dress is a bit creased and I look so hungover in the pictures it's because I actually wore it out last night. It still seems day and evening appropriate - score!

So have you ever saved any projects which haven't quite gone to plan?

Monday, 8 September 2014


Readers, I present to you a first for this blog and for me: my first ever handmade shirt.

I've become a bit obsessed with shirt making techniques recently. Rather like reading a long novel, I find that long, complex sewing projects are immensely satisfying. I like the number of pieces that go into a shirt: the collar, the plackets, the cuffs and pockets... when it comes together, it really feels amazing. I've been promising my boyfriend for over a year now that I'd make him a shirt. To be fair, he has a lot to put up with. I'm not the tidiest sewer in the world. I frequently leave my stuff lying around the flat, I take up most of the floor space in our small living room to cut out my pattern pieces and I've even been known to drop pins in the bed. I think it's high time I owed him one.

The pattern is Mccalls 6044. Unfortunately there's not a huge amount of choice out there for men folk when it comes to sewing patterns, but this shirt seemed like the best of a bad bunch. Plus I've seen a number of good versions in the bloggesphere, especially this one on Crab & Bee, which swayed me into it. I decided to go the whole hog and choose View E - I love the yokes and pockets which give a kind of cowboy look. The fabric is a nice and sturdy 100% cotton from Samuel Taylors in Leeds. It did the job.

The pattern was easy enough to follow although I did make a mistake which was entirely my own fault. I've come to a point now where I tend to use my intuition more than the pattern instructions, which led me to make a pretty big blunder early on the process. To explain, as I said, I opted for View E of the pattern which includes a yoke at the front and the back of the shirt. Having made a couple of shirt dresses before I assumed that I'd need to cut out the yoke and bodice pieces separately and then reattach them. Also, being the lazy person I am, I decided to forgo tracing the pieces and snipped straight into the pattern tissue and threw away the excess paper.

Of course, on second glance at the instructions, I realised that the yokes had to be appliqued on to the main body of the shirt. Slightly annoyed at my self, I attached the yokes back on to the bodice pieces, but due to fiddling around with the cutting lines I had to use a lot of guess work. Sewing is like the butterfly affect, if you change something small, it has a knock on affect on everything else, as is the case with this shirt. My early blunder meant that the armscye and neck opening were too small, so the collar stand didn't fit comfortably and the sleeve heads are puckered. By the time I came across these problems, it was too late to change anything so I just soldiered on. I would change the sleeve heads but I've overlocked and topstitched the seams so carefully that it'd break my heart to unpick them. I'll possibly make another stab at this pattern again so if anyone has any tips on how to redraft a shirt sleeve so that it sits properly in the armscye, I'd be more than grateful!

I might have tripped myself up in the pattern cutting, but there are other things about this shirt which I'm quite proud of. For a start, I made a big effort to imitate all the sewing techniques of a RTW shirt, including flat felling all the seams. There's a lot that goes into a man's shirt which is rather worrying when you think about how cheap they are to buy from certain retailers. I'm glad that I was able to make this one and it give it so much time and love.

So there, you've witnessed my first ever shirt. Roll on the next one...

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Blog design update

It may or may not have escaped your notice but I've been making a few changes to the blog layout over the past few days. I hope it hasn't made things too confusing for you! I've been trying out a few different styles and headers to see what suits and I think I've finally come up with a design that I'm happy with. If I were a professional, I would probably have tried out all these different designs offline and then done an official launch but heck, I'm an amateur, I do this stuff for fun!

So, considering the amount transformations this blog's undergone, I thought I'd just go through some of the process in case you like what you see and you're interested in how I did it. I'm certainly not the be all and end all of graphic design (like I said, I'm an amateur) but there were a few tricks the internet taught me which I'd like to share.

If there's one thing I love about blogging (aside from the writing) it's that you can use it as another little creative outlet to say something about your personality. It's a bit like having an extra room in your house which you can makeover at any time and at no extra cost. My blog's been in need of a lick of paint for a while so I set about thinking what I needed to change.

I found it helpful to think about these two questions:

  1. what defines your blog?
  2. what defines you?

The first question was the easiest one to answer. My blog is about the things I make. Simple. So I knew I needed some kind of symbol in the design which related to this. In my previous blog design I had a sewing machine symbol like this:

But I felt like including a sewing machine again would narrow the subject matter down too much and I wanted the blog to include more general subject matter. So I've used a pair of scissors instead which can symbolise anything from sewing to paper crafts.

The second question was more difficult. It's a bit like trying to define your style and I wouldn't say that I'm someone with a very definite style. I'm a little bit of everything really: classic, modern, simple, girly, not girly... I think the best way to go about it is to just experiment. And I did experiment a heap. I've been lucky enough to have a lot of free time at the moment as I'm out of work so I just played around with different designs, tried them out on the blog and kept changing them until I felt like I'd got it right.

The technical bit
Coming up with the design concept and learning about the technical bit really went hand in hand as I tried to experiment with what I could achieve. I mostly used Inkscape, a free graphic design program, as my canvas. I'm a miser so buying a proper graphic design program wasn't an option when I could download one for free. Inkscape isn't the most user friendly software in the world and I had to rely heavily on online tutorials to do even the most basic things but once you get going, you can do some pretty cool effects. I found this tutorial blog the most helpful.

The layout
I use Blogsopt as my host and I've been fairly happy with it. I know a lot of people use Wordpress and I had a look into transferring but found that you have to pay for things if you want a really good package, and like I said, I'm a miser. Blogspot isn't as technically brilliant but it has a lot of blog design potential. If you go into the Template section and then Customise and Advanced, there's a section called Add CSS. It's an excellent place to tweak your blog design. For example I wanted to centralise the tabs under my header so I inserted this code which did the job:

.PageList {text-align:center !important;}
.PageList li {display:inline !important; float:none !important;}

Again, I had to rely on Google to help me add codes, but thankfully there's plenty of html tutorials out there, you just have to search for what you need and experiment.

Gadgets and widgets
I always think that adding social media buttons gives a cleaner more professional finish to a blog. I found my social media buttons free on Carrie Loves. I used this tutorial to find out how to add them to my blog.

So that's that for my grand blog update. I'd say that the moral of the story is to browse the internet for inspiration and then experiment, experiment, experiment. How about you, have you updated your blog recently?