Where to Start if You’re New to Sewing

sewing booksI’ve been a ‘creative’ all my life. Whether it’s sewing, cross stitch, painting-by-numbers or simply doing a jigsaw puzzle, you name it I’ve tried it. As a child my Christmas lists were generally based around circling numerous craft kits in the Argos catalogue – anyone else remember experimenting with sand art, weaving looms and Plaster-of-Paris animals?

I’ve always done a bit of hand-sewing here and there, but I only started proper ‘sewing’ and ‘dressmaking’ in the summer of 2010. I’m not sure what inspired me to begin but I’m so glad I did! Recently I’ve noticed that a lot of my lovely readers are telling me that they, too, are new to sewing and could do with a helping hand of knowing where to begin. So, here we go:

Sewing Machines for Beginners

toyota sewing machineMy sewing machine is a Toyota 15JSPB. It’s very simple to use, cost around £100 and has minimal stitch choices – that’s about all there is to it! Many bloggers talk about their fancy Janome, Singer or Brother sewing machines (or worse, their overlockers) but, for a beginner, I really would recommend keeping the cost down and starting simple.

My sewing machine may not be a Rolls Royce but, you know what? Look at all the things I’ve made with it – this blog is proof of that! My machine can help me to straight stitch, zig zag stitch and make button holes – and that’s really all you need.

Threads, Bobbins and Bits and Pieces

sewing accessoriesMy advice is to start your collection of sewing accessories small and then add things as and when you need them. Buy a good pair of fabric scissors, some sharp bead-headed pins and a reel of thread then you’re good to go! All the extra bits and pieces – like pattern weights, curved rulers and fancy sewing machine feet – are things you’ll pick up over time as the patterns you make get more complicated. Remember that all patterns come with a ‘things you need’ list, so check that before you get started.

In regards to sewing thread – I recommend a better quality thread (like Gutermann) for dressmaking and anything else will do for smaller projects. Yes, even those 500m reels you get at the market for 50p are useful!

Sewing Patterns for Beginners

This is a tricky one as what’s ‘easy’ for one person is quite difficult for another (I’m looking at you, Vogue)! I suggest choosing sewing patterns that don’t use too many different skills to begin with. Of course, the choice is yours, but here are a few simple patterns that I found useful for starting out with myself:

sew by cath kidstonSew! by Cath Kidston – this was the first sewing book I ever bought and I just cannot give it enough praise. If you’re looking for a wide range of homeware projects to make, with clear instructions, then this book is a must! I’ve almost made every single thing out of it.

tilly and the buttons cocoTilly and the Buttons Coco dress/top – this pattern is so incredible and so easy! I’ve made more Cocos than I can count – it’s such a simple pattern with minimal pieces and very clear instructions. An absolute essential for beginner dressmakers.

simplicity 6022Simplicity/New Look 6022 - a basic dress pattern, great for cottons and other easy-to-sew fabrics. I made this dress in gingham which is super cheap! There’s a sleeveless option if you don’t fancy making sleeves just yet and you get to practice simple bias binding around the neckline.

sewing bee bookGBSB circle skirt – this is the only pattern I’ve made from the first GBSB book but it was such a treat to sew. Only 2 skirt pieces and a folded over waistband then you’re done! Also a great introduction to inserting a zip.

Helpful Sewing Guides

The following is a list of useful online guides to various sewing techniques. Never be afraid to Google something if you don’t know how to do it! There’s no shame in not understanding what so-and-so on Twitter means when they say their interfacing won’t sit right despite their understitching. Sewing truely is another language…

I’m aware that I’ve not covered the obligatory ‘fabric for beginners’ module that other blogs always include – but I really do think that the choice is up to you! Cottons, jerseys and chambrays are easier to handle than laces, brocades and silks but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them! I’ll give anything a try – practice makes perfect – and you’ll never learn new things if you don’t experiment. That’s my opinion at least :)

If you have any sewing-related question then please leave me a comment below or get in touch via my contact page. It makes my heart smile to know that I’ve inspired so many people to give sewing, dressmaking and crafts a try – so thank you! And good luck :)

V8949 Lace Dress- Inspired by GBSB 3 Episode 5!

v8949 GBSB lace dressDid you catch the Great British Sewing Bee final? Well done to Matt – I think he was my favourite from the start! However, did you see all those lovely lace skirts they made last week? Last year for GBSB Series 2 I took part in my very own ‘Sewing Bee Sleeveless Top’ challenge (you can see how that make went here). Not one to break with tradition, this year for GBSB Series 3, White Tree Fabrics were very kind to set me another challenge! This time it was a lace challenge – though ‘challenge’ is perhaps an understatement.

The pattern I used for my GBSB lace challenge was the Vogue V8949 dress, an ‘Easy Options’ sewing pattern that features both long sleeve and sleeveless dresses with a lace overlay. I chose to make view C for the a-line skirt but then added the lace sleeves from view B to make it a bit more ‘demure’ and more like an evening dress.

The fabric I used is the black large flower lace from White Tree Fabrics – the same black lace that Neil used in the Sewing Bee episode – with a simple, ivory-coloured lining underneath. The lace has a lovely scalloped edge which I think looks just lovely around my dress hem. If you’ve never sewn with shiny lining and silky, stretchy lace before (like me) then my goodness you’re in for a bumpy ride. These fabrics are gosh-darn slippery! Basting and pinning are your friends for this project, believe me. I got quite frustrated with this dress at one point and put it away for a few weeks whilst I calmed down – I really don’t know how those Sewing Bee contestants managed to cope in such a small time-frame! No walking away from the challenge for a breather in that room…

great british sewing bee neil lace skirt

The pattern itself is made up of lots of separate panels for the skirt, a front bodice, a back bodice, a waistband and two decorative peplums over the hips. I quite like the added peplum feature, it’s not something I’d ever have thought to try but the end result is quite effective. Definitely one I’ll be keeping in mind for future projects! I also rather like the addition of lace sleeves, although I did make them a little too big for my liking. You live and learn – and I certainly did learn a lot whilst making this dress.

vogue 8949 lace dress gbsb

Overall this GBSB lace challenge was exactly that – a challenge!  I’ve learnt such a lot about delicate fabrics and sewing techniques through making it. Practice makes perfect! Who knows, this time next year you might be watching me on the TV as I battle with these fabrics in public rather than in them privacy of my living room ;)

What do you think? Have you ever sewn with lace before? Has the episode inspired you to try? Here are a few of the other White Tree Fabrics bloggers makes (which are all so much better than mine!) – check them out!

Blogger Network #12 – Polka Dot Peter Pan Blouse

simple sew peter pan polka dot blouseTime for March’s Minerva Blogger Network post! In amongst all the wind, rain and snow that have graced the country recently we’ve also been getting a fair few sunny days here in the UK – Spring is definitely coming! In celebration of the Spring, this month’s project is a lightweight, warm-weather blouse – perfect for those first sightings of snowdrops.

The pattern I used for this project is the Simple Sew Peter Pan Collar Blouse. I’ve never used a Simple Sew pattern before but when I noticed that Minerva Crafts had started stocking them I thought it was about time I gave one a try. The pattern itself is printed on sturdy paper (rather like Tilly’s patterns) making it very easy to cut out and work with – which is great for beginners or people who really do want a ‘Simple Sew’.

The blouse is simply made up of a front panel, two back panels and the Peter Pan collar. I do love a good collar, they make even the most basic of outfits look a bit more dressed up. If you’ve never sewn a collar before then you’ll have to trust me on this one, but they really are quite easy to make! Each side of the collar is made up of two pieces of fabric with interfacing in between which you just baste onto the neckline and then, when you attach the bias binding, a finished collar magically appears! It really is a ‘wow, I did that!’ moment.

simple sew peter pan blouse

The fabric I used for my blouse is a black and white polka dot cotton poplin. It’s very soft (and lightweight) making it an ideal choice for a project like this. It’s also very easy to sew with and doesn’t cost the earth! I only used about 1 metre of it for this blouse and then used a very small piece of leftover black cotton for the contrasting collar, plus some white bias binding for the armholes and black binding for the neckline.

simple sew paternThe back of the blouse also features a row of 5 buttons (I used these polka dot buttons). This is perhaps the only part of the project that needs quite a bit of skill! Button holes seem to be a struggle for all seamstresses, but I used my machine and got there in the end. Remember to make your button holes big enough so that your button can fit through it – there’s my tip for that!

What do you think of it overall? I like to wear it tucked into a skirt but I’m sure it’d look just as smart worn on top of a pair of black skinny jeans. Let’s just hope the sunshine sticks around so I can wear it more often!

Stylish Home Sewing – A Book Review!

stylish home sewingTorie Jayne’s Stylish Home Sewing‏ is a gorgeous new sewing book that’s just been released last week. I got sent a copy by the publisher (lucky me!) to review and, to be honest, I’d never actually heard of Torie Jayne before… however, I did a bit of detective work and came across the Torie Jayne website and realised that this book was definitely worth getting my hands on! Here’s the official press release description of the book:

The book features over 35 projects for you to make, to bring some of Torie Jayne’s style to your home. Each chapter is centred on a space in your home. The entrance hall chapter includes useful storage projects, such as square storage boxes made from fabric plus fabric and oilcloth bags. The kitchen chapter includes table linen, a bread basket and utensil holder, while the bedroom chapter features a padded headboard, make-up bag and eye mask. The garden chapter showcases practical projects such as a garden kneeler with carry-handles and a polka-dot tool belt, as well as decorative bench cushions, a child’s play tent and bunting. Each project is in fresh, appealing colours, and reflects Torie’s sewing expertise, as well as her eye for patterns. Beautiful step-by-step artworks and clear instructions make each project easy to complete.

torie jayne stylish sewing 1

torie jayne home sewing 2

I took a few photos of my favourite projects from the book – what do you think? The little peg basket is so adorable and I love the weaved fabric cushion and that fantastic teepee! Can you imagine having one of those for summer?! This book is perfect for gift inspiration – I’ve already noted down a few of the projects that I’d like to make as wedding gifts, birthday presents and in preparation for Christmas. Look at the felt rose garland (below) too – isn’t it great?

rose garland

The instructions in the book are written out in illustrated/written steps like most other craft/sewing books – I actually thought that the layout was very similar to the Liberty Book of Simple Sewing that I got a little while ago. The templates for the projects are printed at the back of the book but you do have to photocopy and enlarge some of them (as with the Liberty book) which does infuriate me a bit! Mainly because I don’t know how to do that…

felt rose broochI’ve not had the time to start on any of the larger projects out the book yet but I did make a little felt rose brooch the other evening – all you need to do is cut out the flower templates in felt and then artfully twist and stitch them into place. Simple but effective, don’t you think?

Overall, the Torie Jayne Stylish Home Sewing book is definitely one I would’ve picked up had I not been offered a copy. The projects in it are all so adorable and 90% of them are things you’d actually want to make – unlike some other books out there! I can definitely see myself ordering some broderie-anglaise trim and turquoise felt in the near future….

DIY Hexie Patchwork Clock

hexie patchwork clock diyThere’s something about hexagonal patchwork that just looks so beautiful, isn’t there? I’m always being inspired by the hexie projects I see online (take Lucie’s hexie glasses case, Sairer’s patchwork cushion and even my own hexie patchwork knitting bag) so, for my friend’s birthday this month, I chose to put my inspiration to good use and made her this fantastic hexie patchwork clock!

The idea for the clock came from Owen’s Olivia’s blog here but it’s easy enough to freestyle – I downloaded a hexagon template from the internet (these ones are about 3cm big but you can pick whatever scale you want) and then cut out 61 of them from a sheet of paper. Once you’ve done that, you use each hexagon as a template to cut out a piece of fabric – make each fabric hexie about 1cm bigger than the template all the way around. Next, fold the fabric around the paper template and baste it in place.

Making hexie patchwork is quite time consuming as it’s all done by hand, so it requires a fair bit of patience. It’s a great little project to do whilst sitting in front of the TV on an evening though! I found the repetitive motions of cutting and basting quite therapeutic. Once you’ve got all your hexagons done, it’s then time to sew them together – I started at the bottom corner and just built up from there. Remember to use tiny stitches very close to the edge so that they don’t show through too much on the other side!

diy hexie patchwork clock

I embroidered the numbers 12, 3, 6 and 9 around the edges of my patchwork clock face and then carefully attached the whole thing to a piece of thick cardboard that I’d cut to the same shape- double sided tape does the job just fine. And then came the hardest part of all – attaching the clock mechanism! You can get hold of these very easily on the internet (mine was just a few pounds from eBay) but they do require a fair bit of bashing and crying… you poke a hole through the centre of the clock and then push the handles onto the base very hard until they click and sit squarely on your clock. Next, simply pop in a battery and you’re away! Well, I wish it was that easy – my husband had to give me a bit of help because I was about to throw a tantrum, but it’s ok, we fixed it in the end ;)

What do you think? Have you ever tried hexie patchwork before?

I Have A New Blog Design! & Mystery Giveaway!

SSTake a look around! What do you think? Do these new colours make me look good? :) I’ve been wanting a redesign for ages – something to bring my blog from the depths of 2010 where it began right into the modern day of 2015. So do you like it?

I’d like to dedicate this post to my awesome designer-friend Sophie who created my new logo, background, social media icons and everything else fancy you see around here. Sophie’s a brilliant illustrator – you can find out lots more on her Pinterest, in her Etsy shop, Society 6 and Twitter  – and I highly recommend that you get in touch should you want alice in wonderland printyour own logos, prints, cards, cushions or anything else creating! She actually made us this great Alice in Wonderland typography print for our wedding, too :)

In celebration of my super new look I thought I’d host a little mystery giveaway for all of you lovely readers as I really do appreciate the time you take to read what I write and leave such lovely comments! I’ve put together a mystery sewing bundle filled with bits and pieces to add to your stash – you never know, there might be patterns, fabric, buttons or sweets! To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on this post - I’ll pop your names into a hat on Valentine’s Day (2015) and draw one lucky winner then. Good luck!

Note: this competition is now closed! Thank you so much for all of your entries. The winner, chosen at random, is Hayley who has been contacted for her prize. Well done!

Blogger Network #11 – Valentine’s Day Pompom Heart Bouquet

heart pompom bouquetSo, here comes February, and time for a Valentine’s themed Minerva Crafts project! With Valentine’s Day being just a fortnight away I thought I’d use this month’s post to my advantage. However, now that I have an actual husband, I can’t help but think that this V-Day nonsense is perhaps a bit redundant.. so, rather than make something super smushy and lovey dovey, I’ve gone for a more subtle approach to a Valentine’s craft… a pompom bouquet!

Ever since Kirstie used a pompom maker on her TV show last year I’ve been longing to give one a try. Personally, I see no problem with the good old circular card method, but I’ve seen so many blogs about them that I felt a little bit left out – but not any more! I may be a bit late to the pompom party but I’ve definitely arrived – in pompom bouquetthe form of a heart-shaped pompom maker. Perfect for a Valentine’s craft!

I chose to make my heart pompoms in a variety of blue yarns – it matches our bedroom just marvellously and is a bit more ‘manly’ (if pompom hearts can ever be called manly!) for my husband. To make them, you simply wrap your yarn around the arms of the pompom maker, close it up, tie another piece of yarn tightly around the middle, cut all the way around the edges and then pull really, really tightly to seal the deal. This sounds like the easiest thing ever but, believe me, you have to go careful otherwise you can get a bit over-excited and end up with tiny bits of cut-up yarn all over the carpet…

heart pompom maker

Anyway, once I’d made a good handful in various shades of blue, grey and cream (I think there’s a topical 50 Shades of Grey/Valentine’s day reference in there somewhere), it was time to make them into a bouquet. To do this I got hold of some wooden skewers and simply poked one into the middle of each pompom. Easy! I also cut some of the skewers to different lengths to give the bouquet a bit of varying height and then popped them into a glass vase on my windowsill.

This is such an easy Valentine’s day craft – great for both kids and grown ups – and I’m sure you could make just the same for Mother’s Day too. Give it a try! <3