Learning to sew stretch: French Terry co-ord set with Good Fabric

I was gifted this fabric in exchange for a blog post on my experience sewing with it. All views are my own.

I’m turning 30 this month – yikes, now it’s out there. Before Covid, I had a list of things I wanted to do before 30 and they mostly included travel ….well, things have changed and my goals with them. Now, before my fourth decade starts I have decided to face my fears and start getting to grips with knits…

I’ve had an overlocker (Janome 9200D) for nearly two years now but only recently have been brave enough to finish my edges with it, and still prefer zig zagging my viscose hems. But I know there’s so much more I can do and have been determined to branch out into the cosy, stretchy, fabulous world of jersey and knit fabrics.

Polina from Good Fabric stocks a beautiful range of knit fabrics and when we discussed collaborating on a blog post I was initially really cautious of sewing with stretch in case I messed it up. Polina was really encouraging and knowledgeable about her fabrics and suggested I start out with a simple pattern and a french terry, which has proven to be the perfect fabric for a stretch beginner like me!

Polina kindly gifted me this beautiful forest green beauty – the quality is stunning and as a mid weight fabric it has a great structure for all kinds of garments from tops to dresses and trousers. I had 2.5m and immediately got to planning.

For my first jersey make I wanted to use a TNT pattern that would be really versatile in my wardrobe and comfy for working from home as so many of us are doing. I really love the look of a jersey co-ord outfit which are so in style right now – they usually feature either trousers or a tube skirt with a loose top that grazes the hips. I think they’re gorgeous for both hanging out at home and nipping to the shops or on our socially distanced walks. However most of the versions I’ve seen are in a ribbed knit and super form fitting which does not fit with the chilled out, loose waistband WFH comfy vibe I am currently going for.

My inspo for this make – but I won’t be wearing heels!

To recreate this look, naturally I turned to the Queen of Stretch Tilly and the Buttons who has quite literally written the book on sewing with stretch fabrics. Her Nora pattern is super popular on Instagram and I love how many variations you can make with it; I went for the long sleeve polo neck version.

As always I wanted to toile before cutting into my special fabric so used a really cheap kids jersey from the local market. A cotton jersey, it has a similar weight to the french terry but wasn’t as soft and supple.

Before starting I did some research on sewing with knits to ensure I had all the right tools. I found this Love to Sew episode particularly useful as well as this Seamwork article and the Nora hack blog post on Tilly’s blog. All her patterns have a blog post on styling and fitting which is so useful! By the end of this research I had garnered the following essentials

Walking foot – this should come with most machines and helps feed the fabric steadily through your machine without stretching it. This made SUCH a difference and was so easy to use. Remember that you should use a zig zag stitch on your seams (mine was 2.5 long, 2.5 wide) and straight stitch for top stitching

Overlocker – not a necessity but really speeds up the process and makes for such a neat finish. I was today years old when I realised the small marks on the foot show where the stitch will start and by lining up with the seam allowance marks on my machine I could keep the stitches pretty straight. If you are still getting used to your overlocker, there are lots of videos on YouTube that are really helpful – it took me a few goes to get the threading and tension right but my machine seems happy at a 2.8 tension across all the threads.

Aligning my edge with the 5/8 marking on the overlocker

Jersey/stretch needles – I can thank Love to Sew for this one. I bought a set of jersey needles and used them in my machine and overlocker. Jersey needles are much finer and slide through the fabric more easily, meaning less pull and less skipped stitches.

Twin needle – I think this was my favourite discovery of the jersey journey. The twin needle makes for neat top stitching around the neckline and again was very simple to use. I even found a jersey twin needle which made the sewing even smoother! As the french terry is slightly thicker, it went through my machine and overlocker really nicely and I felt in full control, something I’d been worried about if working with a slippy viscose jersey for example.

Feeling very proud of my topstitching!

Note: I bought my needles online here in the Netherlands and at my local market but am linking to old faithful John Lewis here as they deliver all over!

The Nora top was surprisingly quick to sew up and I managed to get it out of just over a metre of fabric. My toile was a size 4 and although really comfy did feel a little big. The Nora is intended to be oversized and it’s suggested you size down or take out excess under the arms and at side seams if you prefer a closer fit.

My toile – comfy but a bit big for what I was after

For my co-ord outfit, I added 15cm to the length of the bodice pieces and sized down to a 3. I evened out the length of the pieces so that there was no ‘step’ but kept the split at the side. It is honestly the comfiest thing to wear! Having toiled the top and with new confidence under my belt, I sewed the Nora in an evening and the skirt in an afternoon, one of the quickest sews ever!

For the skirt I just wanted a simple elasticated waist tube skirt and was amazed how fast this was to make. You could even draft your own piece for this by taking a few measurements -check out this great tutorial here.

In my stash I had the Simply Sewing Leila dress which matched exactly my measurements and I’ve used plenty of their woven patterns before so trust their sizing. I cut two of the back piece which has no darts, just shaping at the waist from the hip. I then cut a waistband by cutting two pieces on the fold. They were the same width as the top of the skirt and just 1cm more than double the height of my flat, wide elastic. It was a quick matter of overlocking the side seams, sewing together the waistband (leaving a gap to thread the elastic through) then folding it WST and overlocking it to the top of the skirt (right side up). Then I hemmed the skirt with my twin needle and was good to go!

If you’ve been wanting to start sewing with jersey but feel too nervous to try, I would really recommend this fabric and pattern combination. The french terry was super soft but sturdy to sew with and washes really well retaining its shape. Polina has some gorgeous plains and patterns in stock which would look fabulous in a co-ord, or how about the new Tilly pattern the Billie dress? Here are some of my favourites from her store which would look fantastic in a WFH outfit (click the images to see more)

This challenge has taught me that with research, planning and confidence my sewing skills will keep growing and my confidence with it! With working from home looking like the status quo from now on, I’ll be prioritising more comfy secret pyjama makes for my thirties….

Have you sewn with stretch yet? What have been your best tips/what would you like to learn? Let me know either here or via instagram; I’d love to hear from you.

A perfect ‘simple sew’; the Grace Skirt

This blog post contains gifted products that I received in exchange for a blog entry

Have you heard of Simple Sew? If you haven’t already, theirs are a collection of staple wardrobe pieces that are a great option for both experienced and beginner sewers. From their patterns you could easily build a lovely capsule wardrobe with vintage inspired silhouettes that often go easily from day – night. I’ve liked their patterns for a while; in fact, the Grace dress/skirt was the first sewing pattern I ever bought and tried! In retrospect I was very lucky and needed few alterations so I was convinced I was a master sewer already – future patterns and fabrics would teach me otherwise!

So imagine how happy I am to be joining the Simple Sew blog team a few years later! I may have a few more makes under my belt but I still kept my original Grace dress in the wardrobe as a memento of my first ever make, dodgy zip placement and all.

For my first Simple Sew blog post I decided to come full circle and use my original Grace pattern for the skirt; although I’ve made the dress a few times now I’ve not made a skirt on its own and wanted to see how I would tackle this beginner friendly sew with more experience under my belt.

What I learned is that the pattern is indeed ideal for someone starting out in sewing but also would be a great ‘simple sew’ for someone with more experience. Here’s why I love the pattern…

1. It’s a simple pattern with several variations

With a full skirt and choice between midi and short length, the Grace skirt has in my opinion a lot of possibilities! When making the dress, you can opt for a scoop or v neck and short or no sleeves. You could also hack the sleeves to be longer or hack the skirt to be button-down. The who pattern feels very ‘French’ to me which as we know is something I’m aspiring to in my me-made wardrobe and I love a pattern with lots of variations. For my make I chose the midi skirt length.

2. A simple pattern gives you freedom to take your time planning

To plan the make I used my Pattern Trace garment pad and planner which were kindly gifted to me by the Pattern Trace team. It’s a really handy tool and makes sure you don’t forget any of those little notions that make a garment feel truly complete.

Before choosing a fabric I wanted to be sure it would blend with the rest of my wardrobe and the ‘Cool Autumn’ palette I’m working on (more on that in my blog soon!!). I’m also keen for as many of my makes as possible to be wearable in multiple seasons so decided on an ideally blue, lightweight fabric that would work with a light blouse in summer and a jumper/tights in winter.

This Lady McElroy Skylar Elegance lawn from Bobbins and Buttons is beautiful and they kindly gave it to me to use for this post. Isn’t it fabulous! The pattern makes me think of brushstrokes, graffiti and blue china tea sets all at the same time…

Knowing this is quite a straightforward pattern gave me more freedom to take my time choosing the fabric and it works well with such a bold print.

3. (For the skirt) you only need to take one measurement

Based on my waist measurement I cut a straight size 12 from the pattern. The only adjustment I made was to add an extra 5cm to one of the back waistband pieces in order to have an overlapping piece with a button (I always think they look lovely on skirts). If you’re not too experienced in measuring yourself just yet, this is a great pattern to start with and just take the one measurement. Make sure the tape measure lies flat and you are not holding it too tight or loosely on your waist.

4. You learn several new skills in one make

Despite being a ‘simple sew’ you will learn several skills in this make, including pockets, applying a waistband, gathering and inserting a zip. If you’re making the dress you’ll learn how to add a lining, which I promise is not as hard as it looks!

The most important thing with pockets is to match the notch marks between the pattern pieces and to ‘notch’ your pocket curves which helps them sit neatly. Personally I find this a really relaxing task, but maybe that’s just me!

I chose the gathered skirt and my not-so-secret top tip for gathers is this magical waxed thread I was given a while ago. It’s a thicker thread that still works on the machine and, when used in a long stitch, is ideal for pulling up gathers neatly and you never have to worry about the thread breaking.

Finally the zip is another skill to learn, or rather practise. You might not nail zips on your first go, and that’s ok. Ensure you have the correct zipper foot, practise if you can, and always tack your zip in place and check it’s right before sewing! I used an invisible zip and foot, then a 1cm seam allowance on the remainder of the skirt length and hand stitched the bottom of the zip in place.

5. It’s a wardrobe staple you can be proud of!

As soon as I finished this skirt I didn’t want to take it off! Especially in this gorgeous quality fabric, it feels so luxurious yet lightweight and so swishy. I love that it could be worn in summer or winter and feels like it can be dressed up or down.

I of course had to add some Modista labels to the make to finish it off – I’ve been wearing a lot of blue lately so have been using the blue ‘et voilà‘ label on a few makes as well as of course the isewlation label to remember this lockdown make.

Overall I would really recommend the Grace pattern for any sewer whether beginner or experiences. I love the variations which are always a priority for me when pattern shopping and taking my time with a relatively simple make was a lovely reminder of how much I enjoy sewing, especially with a lovely lawn like this.

Thank you for reading and I hope this post has inspired you to try your own Simple Sew pattern! Simple Sew are offering an exclusive discount to Modista subscribers in the July newsletter – what will you use your discount on?

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Beginner-friendly sewing ideas during lockdown

With the Great British Sewing Bee starting on the 22nd April and the majority of people in the world now living under some sort of lockdown, it makes sense that a lot of people will want to start sewing as a new way to pass the time.

A lot of people who have bought the isewlation labels have told me they’re starting out sewing or buying them as a gift for someone who is.

I’ve loved seeing how people are using them and wanted to share some fabulous examples and ideas here for anyone thinking of doing some sewing during lockdown. Whether you’re new to sewing or experienced hopefully you’ll find some fun ideas here!

1. Mask hairbands by Juliet Ozor

These are a genius idea and super quick and easy for all levels of sewers. I am making them for my friends who are health workers who tell me they are ok to use provided they withstand the hot wash needed to clean PPE. The labels being OEKO-tex quality, they are hardy and will also stand up to it.

You can follow Juliet’s example pattern here.

2. Eye mask by Tilly and the Buttons

Another quick and easy make and best of all, it’s free! These are another great gift idea for any key worker friends who work nights, or simply someone you want to let know you’re thinking of them.

The drawstring bag is another easy free pattern from the set by Simply Sewing. I’ve made a few of these sets using gorgeous Masai cotton I bought in Kenya earlier this year.

3. Scrub Bag

Emma aka The Zipper Foot used her labels to make a gorgeous scrub bag for her friend who is a nurse. There are lots of free patterns online for these bags as well as a Facebook group for people making PPE and related items during the pandemic. They’re really simple to do, but at the moment so useful.

4. Zipper purse

This is often one of the first patterns attempted by beginner sewers and I personally never tire of making them as there are so many ways to adapt them and make every one different! On this one I’ve just used a simple rectangle shape to make a lined purse but there is an excellent round up of all the patterns you can imagine here by the Sewing Loft Blog.

5. Toys and teddies for little ones

I recently made this Luna Lapin for a new baby. She’s wearing the t-shirt bow dress from the first book and a cardigan I drafted (read more about it here). Why not add a label to a teddy or knitted item you’re making?

6. Pin badge display

I’m a recent convert to pin badges and although there are so many fun ways to display them, on fabric is one of my favourites. I love this DIY pin badge banner tutorial from Polka Dot Chair – it’s simple, effective and a great project for beginners and a label would look great on it!

7. Teabag holder

This is such a cute idea and a great way to use fabric scraps. It also folds flat so would be easy to send to someone in an envelope if you wanted to add a label to them as an adorable gift! Free pattern here by The Sewing Directory.

8. Jam jar topper

My auntie’s friends have been making jam and dropping the jars off at each other’s doors which I think is a lovely way of telling someone you’re thinking of them. A jam jar topper is super easy and doesn’t even require machine sewing – just a bit of material, some ribbon, a label and a hairband and you’re set! Free pattern available here from Hobbycraft.

9. Sunglasses case

It’s pretty sunny out there and even though we can’t spend too long outside it’s still nice to have a sunglasses case to take with you out and about. A free pattern for this easy make is available here on Sew DIY and would make a lovely gift for someone, especially in a Liberty style fabric like this one.

10. On your own clothes!

I can’t believe how gorgeous the pieces are that people have been using the labels on. Sewing as we know is a calming, mindful hobby (except when holding a seam ripper) and making a garment or item from scratch is so rewarding in normal circumstances, never mind now. I especially love this Wiksten shift top from @rosieo. It’s a cult pattern with straightforward assembly and such an effective design.

I hope that this list has given you some ideas! I could go on (and on) but know at the moment everyone has a limited bandwidth for how many items they can sew right now (myself included) so these easy makes are a good way to practise your sewing skills and make something lovely.