I watch far too many sewing videos on Youtube where the maker has their own sewing room with shelves stacked high with fabric and tools and a cutting table that I could lie on like a starfish. I do not have this luxury. I have a table that doubles (triples, quadruples?) as my computer desk, my working from home desk, my sewing/making desk, and my drawing desk. I basically live here, sat at my desk in one corner of my bedroom of a one bed flat. So I decided to put together some tips on sewing in a small space.
- Keep as much digital as possible. We now have so many digital patterns, online books and magazines that we can reduce that amount of shelf space needed. Yes a tactile book is a wonderful thing but they take up a lot of space. I also use my local library a lot to borrow books and keep a notebook of interesting techniques.
- Regularly review your fabric stash. If you have an idea or a new pattern for a project, go through your stash BEFORE browsing for new fabric. And sometimes you can see a fabric in a new light and it suddenly speaks to you for a project you weren’t expecting. Also buy fabric samples before you buy online. That way if it turns out to be the wrong colour/weight/feel for your specific project you don’t have to store it away and think of another way to use it.
- Work in batches. It’s not always possible to have a dedicated space for your sewing machine to be unpacked and ready to sew at. Mostly I have to take the time to clear my desk and unpack my sewing machine, then get as much done as I can. One of the reasons I love my hand-cranked Singer 99K is that it’s a small scale machine with no wires or foot pedels to set up.
- Cleanse your UFO pile. Half finished projects take up space and resources. I’m sure half of my pins are holding together projects waiting to be finished. Although knitting is the worst. I only have one pair of 4mm needles which I use a lot. But I have to finish each project as I go to keep using them.
- It’s OK to dump all your sewing notions in one box. It may be #aesthetic to have glass jars full of buttons or thread spools but a plastic tub shoved into the wardrobe is much more practical and saves on shelf space.
- Be mindful of what tools and gadgets are essential and which are not. Remember that having more tools doesn’t make your sewing “better”, they generally just make things quicker.
- Embrace the slow burn. Hand sewing takes up a lot less space and is wonderfully portable. Instead of being stuck at a table with a sewing machine you can sit on the sofa, in the garden, where ever is comfortable for you. This is a lot slower process but time is a resource I have in abundance (mostly) space, I don’t.
- Take full advantage of floor space when alone in the house. This can include moving of furniture around, but you can double up by having a really good vacuum while your there.
- Find creative ways to apologise to people you live with.
I’m not a patient creator. I’m also not a consistent creator.
I prefer to have several different projects on the go at the same time and hop between them to get a new burst of enthusiasm. Most of the time these short bursts are enough to keep me going to the end of each project. However, there is a graveyard of unfinished objects (UFOs) that are cluttering both my workspace and my headspace at the moment.
I have a new batch of 1940s sewing projects that I have been planning for the last few weeks. I can’t wait to get started with the mock-ups, fitting, choosing fabrics, combining colours, browsing buttons and the immersive nature of being in the middle of the creative process.
However, this blog post isn’t about the new projects. This blog post is about trying to be a patient creator and a more consistent creator. I need to clear my UFOs
My current UFO projects:
- A 1940s style dress that I could never decide how to convert the closure from a zip at the side seam to a front button closure. Then I made the silly mistake of cutting out 2 of the 4 skirt pattern pieces backwards. After some screaming into the void, I put the project to one side and ignored it. Estimated time to complete: 3 hours sewing
- A 1950s style slip petticoat. I cut out the pattern pieces and it was all going well unit I sewed a few seams . I realised that the fabric (a light cotton shirting) was far too fine for the needle in my machine and I had to order some more. I gently folded the pattern pieces and waited for a new packet of needles to arrive. When they did arrive, I’d lost all my enthusiasm for metres of ruffles and gathers. Estimated time to complete: 4 hours sewing
- My “in-between” weather coat. This is still in the early stages and I’ve not even started cutting out. It’s a UFO though because I really need that coat! Spring has arrived and I’m still wearing my cold weather winter coat. I arrive at every destination very warm and slightly too sweaty to be socially acceptable. This project is at the stage where I have decided to make some major alterations to the original pattern which is a daunting task that is intimidating me not a small amount. Estimated time to complete: 10 hours sewing + time for ordering of materials.
- Knitted jumper. These are the most dangerous UFO. I was knitting to a specific lace pattern that I had got into a rhythm with and had all the muscle memory for. Then I put it down and lost my place. This cute little bat wing jumper is about 70% complete, but I will have to take the time to relearn the stitch patter, recount all my stitches and go through the pattern to find out where I was. In short, it will take my full attention, whereas before I mothballed it I could knit the stitch pattern from memory while watching Youtube videos. Estimated time to complete: 4 hours knitting
- The Keystone jacket. It feels like I started this project roughly one million years ago but it was actually started in June last year. But it was at the very start of my lockdown induced sewing cocoon transformation so the excitement and wonder of the sewing has faded away significantly. This project has faulted and shuddered to a halt because I realised I needed to do MUCH more research in tailoring techniques to make this into something that was not terrible. I also need to buy tailors canvas and tailors tape and all these other things that start with the name “tailors” to specify that this is not the everyday “canvas” of “tape” but something that behaves completely differently. Just to be confusing. Estimated time to complete: 20 hours sewing + 10 hours research + time for ordering of materials.
As you can see this list gradually escalates in time and effort. The first few projects will be relatively simple. I have all the materials ready and I just have to pull up my sleeves and get stuck in. I have already started to make a bit of an effort with the 1940s dress. It helps that I love the fabric, which is something that has reawakened my passion for the project. While it was tucked away, I couldn’t see it and all my thoughts attached to the dress were negative ones about the wrong pattern pieces and the confusion of closures.
These projects need to be tackled one at a time. I need to give them all of my focus until they are complete, and I can more onto the next with a clear headspace and a clear work desk.
The idea of making a corset was such an exciting and terrifying dream for me. I’ve never made anything so structured and technical before.
To prepare myself I spent a long time researching. Mainly through watching other makers on YouTubers making their own projects. I learned the mysteries of busk insertion and the poetic curve of the boning channel and I was entranced.
For my own corset I wanted to keep it simple. I tried at first to draft my own pattern from this very helpful free article on Foundations Revealed. However this gave me a shape which was… my own shape. This wasn’t what I was aiming for at all! I want to change and enhance my silhouette rather than replicate it.
So I chose, after much deliberation, Symington pattern 616. Which had the combination of attributes I desired:
- A corded hip panel – I adore cording and I was excited to try it out.
- A spoon busk – which I had already purchased.
- A simple boning layout – all the boning channels stayed within the confines of each pattern piece.
- It looked beautiful – As a print to put on my wall it wouldn’t look out of place.
To tie it into the Sophie Hatter project I wanted the corset to represent the earth element. I had spotted the perfect outer fabric of Liberty – Wildflowers silk satin (a precut 1 metre piece on ebay) and snapped it up months before the time came to start. Under the flowers would have to be soil, so I purchased a chocolate brown twill cotton for the inner layer.
To me this corset represents the part of the story of Howl’s Moving Castle where Sophie sees the edge of the wastelands for the first time. Both Howl and the wizard Suliman fought against the wastes with nature by bringing water and planting seeds creating an area of paradise to push against the Witch of the Waste.
The Sophie Hatter combinations were the first garment made for the Sophie Hatter project. This was for the Foundations Revealed competition 2021. The brief was to create and outfit or garment for a character from a work of literature.
I chose one of my favourite characters Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Originally published as a children’s book in 1986, it was also made into a hugely popular animated film of the same name by Studio Ghibli.
For this project I went back to the original book as the source material to avoid any visual representations from the Studio Ghibli film to creep into my design. As much as I love the film, I wanted my outfit to be a more conceptual representation of Sophie’s character and the world she lives in, and not be a simple, easily animated baggy dress.
I started with the foundation layer first, from there I could work out wards. I had a clear idea of what I wanted to create after seeing the below pair of combinations held at the Chertsey Museum. These dated from 1901-1910.
However my starting point had a clear disadvantage which was that there was no pattern for me to use to recreate this and no more photos of the back or any close-ups to help me figure out details.
I drafted a pattern using the split drawers pattern from Making Edwardian Costumes for Women – Suzanne Rowland (page 34). This was moderately successful after some major fit adjustments. However I could completely change this if I was to make another pair of combinations.
The main design concept which I used to link together the items I made for the Sophie Hatter project was the four elements, water, earth, air and fire.
The combinations were based on the water element and I used a hand dyed piece for fabric to represent this. It combined blues, greys and the natural white of the original fabric.
- Gutterman Cotton Thread – 305 Steel & 5104 Dark Grey
- 8mm Shell buttons – Petrol Blue
- Cotton Voile Hand Dyed Remanent 1.65×1.5m
- 32mm silk ribbon Grey 1 metre
- 25mm silk ribbon grey 1 metre
- 7mm silk ribbon grey 2 metres
- Chantilly lace dark grey 5 metres
- Grey lace trim 3 metres
I sewed these combinations entirely by hand. This was mostly because of the light-weight of the cotton voile I used. I was very afraid of the sewing machine just chewing it up and ruining it. The fabric was an exceptionally light weight, hand dyed cotton remnant I stumbled onto on Ebay. I bought it because of the colours but I should have used something a little heavier weight in retrospect.
I hand dyed project is defianatly in my future, but it’s a scary messy process to my current self.
The main shaping of this garment are sets of pintucks. These were a steep learning curve as I haven’t sewn these before, either by hand or by machine. The pintucks above were for the drawers. They were in sets of 8 tucks, each one was 1/4 inch in size so each set gives a reduction of 2 inches.
There were 4 sets of 8 pintucks, two on the front and two on the back.
The waist of the drawers was sewn to a thin waist tape made from the blue cotton voile with the light grey eyelet lace sewn on top. The dark grey silk ribbon was woven in an out of the eyelet lace and acts as a drawstring to tie together the waist at the centre front.
All the raw edges had to be finished before the seams were sewn to stop the fabric fraying.
For more information about the process of making these combinations, please see the two videos below:
When the Bernadette style of shoe was revealed to our plague ridden world in August 2020, We rejoiced. Bernadette Banner had been working with historical shoe makers American Duchess to design and produce these super cute heeled boots.
With very little thought, which was only to decide what colour I liked the most, I took the plunge to pre-order the blue/black colour from the UK distributor Rags and Jags.
I already have a pair of Cherry tone Londoners, which I like a lot, but I have some slight issues with as I will explain later.
These lovely blue shoes would be perfect for all my outfits that have a cooler tone. Whereas I usually wear my Cherry Londoners for warmer tones outfits.
I was lucky enough to order my shoes in the first pre-order window so I received my shoes on Friday 18th December.
- The colours are bright, and the black leather is shinier than I expected. If only because the ombre tone Londoners by comparison look a little more moody and weathered.
- I love the laces, they are the perfect kind of Ooumph this rather preppy design needed. Like they are saying “Yes, there are times when I too can be EXTRA”
- The leather is very soft, very unlike the Londoners, as these are made in Portugal rather that the Chinese factory, so the leather comes from a completely different source (one would suppose).
- The black eyelets are super cute, and the subtle shaping between the laces is *Chef’s Kiss*
I, of course, tried them on straight away and pottered around the house feeling quite grand, even though I was mostly wearing a dressing gown, because, lockdown. I wanted to make sure the fit was good before attempting to go outside.
The leather of these shoes is MUCH more responsive to moulding to ones feet than the Londoners.
Before wearing them outside I gave them a quick once over with some Timpson’s Cobbler’s Cream.
And this is where I have a confession to make to the internet…. I have big feet. Not necessarily long, which denotes the shoe size, but wider and taller, than average….
I have a lot of foot girth…
So when I first tried the Londoners with their stiff, re-enforced brogue leather uppers, I had the wear them A LOT before they would yield to my strange flipper feet. I’m OK with a standard B size width, but I am on the borderline to a wider width.
The Bernadette’s however? So much softer and more malleable.
I also decided to get these in one size larger than the Londoners, so I would have a little more (toe) wiggle room. In fact I could probably wear these with socks rather than tights/stockings.
Although I’m sure the historical costuming Gods have already declared that illegal…
Thoughts while wearing:
- I think these shoes may be, for the reasons stated above, more vulnerable to wear and tear than the Londoners. For example the heel of the Londoner is one solid material (I think it may be glued layers of leather but don’t quote me on that.) Bernadette’s heel is the same construction, but then covered in a supple layer of leather which is moulded to the curves of the heel. I just think that something could easily cut it if I wasn’t careful.
- These shoes make a delightful click on hard floor surfaces
- The laces require a double knot to tie or they might come undone
- They look different at every angle
All in all I love these shoes. I think they may need some extra care as they might be a little more delicate in use. But I think these shoes will be very serviceable if you give as much love and care as these Bernadette’s deserve.
In comparison to to the Londoners I would cautiously say they were superior in fit, because of the soft leather. Although maybe the Londoners are slightly more – hashtag aesthetic – because of the colouring of the leather.