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Megan Dress Hack

This beautiful piece of fabric had been sitting in my stash since February 2019. It is a really bold cerise with yellow and black swirls, on my favourite fabric to work with, African wax print or Ankara. A sewing friend and fellow minister’s wife bought it for me at a time when I was grieving the death of a friend. She wanted me to look forward to the hope of a brighter future, one that my lovely friend was enjoying right now. A future free from pain and filled with great beauty and colours so gorgeous and rich. It was such a beautiful gesture which meant a lot to me.

I wanted to use the fabric to make something special, a dress. But not too special that I would hardly wear it. I didn’t think it needed to be fussy, the fabric is statement enough. It didn’t take me long before I decided that I wanted to make the Megan dress from the book, Love at First Stich by Tilly Walnes. I think my lovely friend would have laughed to know I was wearing a dress called by her name!

Although it didn’t take me long to decide, it did take a long time before I actually cut into the fabric. Fear of messing it up, fear of crying as I sewed it, fear that I wouldn’t like the finished garment. So I waited until I was ready.

Love at first Stitch is Tilly Walnes’ first book, it’s for beginners. I got it for Christmas 2018, having sewn for several years and made many patterns by Tilly and the Buttons. I bought the book mainly for the Mimi blouse and the Megan dress. I love the sixties vibe of the Megan, and it’s simplicity. Having stalked the Megan dress on line for a while, I’d seen several versions including some in waxprint. I’d also read about some issues with the neck. So for my dress, I lowered the neckline. I’m not entirely happy with it, but I will fix that later, for now, my hair covers it!

I made a straight size 5, based on the finished garment measurements. For a more fitted look I should have gone for a 4 bodice, grading out to a 5 at the hips. But I wanted a little space to eat all the cake! I also lengthened the hem by 2 inches which is my usual adjustments for Tilly patterns. I fully lined it too. I don’t really like facings, I find them lumpy and they show through the garment. I like the smooth finish and luxurious feel of a lined garment.

I also decided that I would like to add a little more drama afterall. I think that 3/4 length sleeves look good on a sixties dress and they suit me. So I added the flounce sleeves from the Indigo dress by Tilly and the Buttons. Now, I have to confess, the Indigo and I are not friends. I have a partially finished one languishing in my wardrobe. The whole wide, gathered smock thing does nothing for me. I need more shape and fit to a garment. However, I do love the sleeves, so here they are.

The cotton wax print fabric makes for a nice, crisp flounce which I rather like. I really don’t like gathering, the gathers here are not evenly spaced but I don’t care, it still looks good!

I really am pleased with this dress and so glad I finally made it. It does seem poignant that I made it during lockdown at a time of a global crisis, when thousands of people are dying. Was it pointless for me to be focusing on beautiful garments at a time like this? I’m not sure. It gave me joy to make it, it gave joy to all my family, I’ve had more praise from them for this dress than anything else I’ve made!

Fancy Shirts

I made a shirt last year and I loved it so much that I decided that 2020 would be the year of the shirts. The shirt I made was the Byrdie Button up by Pattern Scout, I was testing again.

I made this shirt from a cotton lawn and trimmed it with navy dobby. It was a make that taught me much, attaching a collar, sleeve plackets and cuffs.

I really do love wearing buttoned shirts but my machine the Janome 7025 doesn’t handle button holes well. But I persevered and made 8 reasonable buttonholes.

This shirt has been named my Nelson Mandela shirt!

The pattern offers a plain button up shirt or dress with standard collar and 2 optional patch pockets, and a pintuck button up shirt or dress with a mandarin collar. If you follow #psbyrdiebuttonup on Instagram, you’ll see some amazing versions. The options of making your Byrdie unique  are plentiful. Playing around with fabric choices, colour blocking,  pockets or no pockets, standard collar or mandarin, they’re all there.

But while we testers were busy making and sharing our makes, Casey of Pattern Scout was busy hacking her pattern. And she has her hacks posted on her blog and has a sew a long and tutorials. One of the hacks Casey posted that had me drooling was for a pussy bow blouse. I knew I had to have one. I watch the series Elementary on Amazon Prime and the character Joan Watson wears some amazing bow blouses. Yes, I spend as much time observing her fashion as I do trying to solve the mystery!

I was on the look out for the right fabric. I wanted something floaty and bold and a little unusual.

When a gust of wind helps emphasize the floatiness of the fabric!

That combination came in the form of this amazing fabric designed by Katie Kortman @katiekortmanart for Spoonflower @spoonflower. It was a fabric that I’d seen Katie Kortman in on Instagram and I loved it.

Spoonflower fabric isn’t cheap. I got 2 metres of crepe de chine using Christmas money from the in laws.  I’m so glad I took the plunge and spent more money than I usually would because it’s every bit as beautiful as I hoped it would be and it’s made a really special garment.

Casey’s hack was simple. Because she used delicate fabric, she eliminated buttons, sleeve plackets and pockets, this made for a quick make. Or at least it would have been if I hadn’t got into a muddle with the neck facing. I unpicked it several times which was not good for this fabric and I still don’t think I got it right. But the busy pattern and the bow hide and detract from that mishap.

Now, I’ve never had the sort of job that calls for smart dress and now that I’m a stay at home mum doing lots of unpaid, community and church work, you’d think I would have no need for a blouse like this. Oh no, I plan to wear this top often, just because it’s beautiful and I made it!

Excuse the booty but check out that back pleat!

As you can see from both sets of pictures I’m wearing the same trousers and boots! That was a happy coincidence. That got me thinking, how often do I make something considering how well it would fit in with my wardrobe? Not often enough really, but I do have a colour palette and that helps to match stuff. But it’s not only the colour that you need to consider, it’s the style too.

A quick look through my wardrobe and I came up with three ways to style my bow blouse with other me mades.

Look 1.

This is the Ivy pinafore by Jennifer Lauren, it’s a couple of years old now. It’s made from a grey herringbone wool and I think it looks cute with the blouse.

Look 2.

I made this Delphine skirt by Tilly and the Buttons last year, using a red wool mix. And on days when I’m wanting to make a bright, bold statement, I think this would do it!

Look 3

This look brings on some full seventies vibes! The jeans are the flared version of the Ash jeans by Megan Nielsen. I made them in this pinstripe denim.

So, I’m pretty pleased with this blouse! It’s a welcome addition to my wardrobe.

I highly recommend this Byrdie pattern, I think it may well be the only shirt pattern I need. I’ve got some other hacks swimming about in my head and I would like to make a pintuck version too. I do love that this pattern is so versitile.

I also highly recommend this fabric. I love this print so much! The crepe de chine was difficult to work with, it was a slippery, snagging so and so. But I’m not going to focus on the snags I made, instead I choose to focus on the fact that I have a really beautiful blouse!

Pattern Testing the Lulu Cardigan

The Lulu cardigan by @patternscout. Version B

This make is giving me all the autumnal feels which is very apt as I both finished it and am writing this blog on the first day of autumn.

I was very excited a few weeks ago when Casey of @patternscout contacted me and asked if I would like to be a tester for her new pattern. I had already been loving the sneak peeks of her Lulu cardigan so I said yes without hesitation.

The Lulu is a bomber style close fitting cardigan with options for a zipper, snaps or buttons and a peplum. The pattern is designed for knit fabrics and the fit and style will largely depend on the type of knit fabric you use. I loved the pattern so much that I made 2 cardigans, testing out both versions.

Fabric from Sew Over It and Dalston Mill

For my first jacket, I rummaged through my stash. I kind of wanted to colour block but I wasn’t entirely happy with the mix of patterns or weight of fabric I had. I finally settled on these two. The striped fabric is textured ponte from Sew Over It on Essex Road, Islington. I bought it last year in one of their monthly remnant sales and I knew it was destined to be a cardigan, once I’d found the right pattern. The teal ribbing is from Dalston Mill, Hackney. Both fabrics are pretty stable knit without much stretch, but enough for this pattern according to the little stretch test chart on the pattern instructions. Ponte is my favourite knit to work with, but stripes, well that just added another dimension. I was uber careful to cut the pattern out best as I could to get the stripes to match. I wish I could tell you step by step exactly what I did, but I can’t remember!

I have tested once before for @patternscout and I find her instructions so clear, informative and logical. Part of being a tester means that you follow the instructions as they appear so you can let the designer know if they makes sense. These instructions made total sense. I know I’ve been sewing quite a bit over the last couple of years but I found this pattern so easy to make and this version at least was a seam ripper free make! Whoop whoop!

Almost, nearly, pretty good stripe matching

I made a size 12, C cup. I love that Casey designs for a range of cup sizes. I recently went to the trouble of going for a proper bra fitting at a charming, old school place called Design Also, Highbury. I discovered there was more to me than I thought and the words ‘scoop’ and ‘lift’ are now a part of my daily morning ritual. If you want to know more, go visit the shop. I digress. I graded the arms up a size and lengthened the sleeves to the full Version B (cuff less) length, to accommodate my mesomorphic frame.

The finished, bomber style cardigan is close fitting as I wanted it to be. It makes a snug top over a vest or cami. I love the cropped length here with my Megan Neilsen Ash jeans. Actually, as I look at that picture above, I can’t believe that I made my complete outfit. If you had told me a couple if years ago that I’d make a pair of jeans and a jacket I would have scoffed.

After I made that version, @patternscout made some tweaks to the pattern, heeding the voices of her testers. So what could I do? I had to make another one of course!

Version B plan, frustration was looming.

Version B required a trip to the shops. Living in North London, I am blessed to have so many fabric stores and markets a hop and a skip away. Rolls and Rems, Holloway was the first fabric shop I stumbled upon when I first moved back to London, 8 years ago. My favourite thing about this shop are the remnants buckets where a bargain can always be found. But rummage as I might, this time I couldn’t find the knit fabric that I wanted. But the store had a good selection of knits on it’s shelves and this autumnal shades, floral print grabbed my attention, even though I specifically told myself to buy a solid colour. Prints draw me all the time! The fabric was a light scuba which I believe is now my favourite knit fabric. It doesn’t fray or crease, what’s not to love.

I decided to block this cardigan, teaming it with a black rib, again from Dalston Mill. However, unlike the teal rib for my Version A, this rib was really stretchy and had little cotton content. Nonetheless, I proceeded to sew the collar and side panels in this ribbing and it was a disaster. The fabric stretched and the cardigan was shapeless. Time for the seam ripper? I really didn’t have the heart for this. Thankfully, the lulu cardigan doesn’t use a great deal of fabric and the scuba was a wide piece and I managed to cut out a new bodice from what was left 🙌🏾.

I decided I would go for buttons because I couldn’t find any pearly snaps that I wanted, but I did find cute little antique looking buttons. So with having to basically start again, make button holes and a ruffled peplum, the fun in the make was in danger of being lost altogether. But seeing all the other Lulu cardigans sneak peeking their way on instagram inspired me to press on. I’m so glad I did because this Lulu is gorgeous, if I do say so myself!

If you like the look of my makes, do follow #pslulucardigan and @patternscout on Instagram for more inspiration. And go get the pattern, you won’t regret it!

Last of the summer

I can’t say that I’m much of a planner when it comes to this sewing hobby of mine. I see a pattern I love, consider it and buy it. I see some fabric I love, consider it and buy it and eventually I get round to making the pattern and using the fabric, usually. I really want to get better at this buying and making business, i.e plan, not just aimlessly buy and stash. I want to be that person who decides what they want to make, gets the pattern and gets the right fabric for it and makes it. That’s my aim.

A couple of months ago, I bought the River dress pattern from Megan Neilsen with the intention of making a simple, casual dress. At about the same time, a very kind friend took me fabric shopping at Liberty for my birthday. I chose a beautiful tana lawn, teal or turquoise possibly, covered with large blossom. It was a real treat of a fabric, more costly than what I’d normally buy and I loved the print. I was tempted to keep it for a really special dress, but the thing is, this homeschooling, stay at home mum and minister’s wife doesn’t have many events to go to that call for ‘a really special dress’. Sad, I know, so what’s a girl to do? How about teaming a simple, no fuss dress pattern with a simply gorgeous fabric.

So that’s what I did. The River pattern was a very easy make. There’s the option of a short sleeve, raglan top or dress either in knit or woven fabric. The front and back pieces are virtually the same, but with one side as a v- neck and the other a round neck. The idea is that the dress is reversible, able to be worn with the v-neckline being either the front or the back.I thought it might be fun to make both the front and back have a v- neckline. This meant that I had to make my bias strip a bit longer. I also decided to make three quarter length sleeves with elastic in the sleeve hem for some shape. My final change was to lengthen the dress by about an inch.

I think my changes generally worked but there seems to be some stretching and pulling in the back which I am ignoring. At the moment the dress can be worn with or without the belt as I did not attach the belt loops, but quite frankly, I think I need the belt for better shaping.

The tana lawn is lovely and cool to wear but it is a little see through. I wore it with a half slip for modesty, but I found it a bit uncomfortable, it kept slipping, pardon the pun. A full slip would be better, perhaps I can turn an Ogden cami into a slip, hmm.

This dress marks the end of my summer makes for 2019 as I turn my attention to my autumn and winter wardrobe. With thoughtful layering though, this dress may be a nice transitional piece. I will share my autumn plans and makes later. This is a first for me, actually planning my makes. We’ll see how that goes!

Hummingbird tales

When I was in Primary school, I wrote a story about a time when I held a hummingbird in my hand when I was back in Ghana. A complete fabrication, and I hadn’t intended to deceive, but I must have written convincingly enough because my teacher believed it and loved it.

And here I am, several years later, making up another hummingbird tale in this beautiful cornflower blue crepe. I bought this fabric back in February at the Knitting and Stitching show and couldn’t decide what to make with it and wasn’t entirely sure that I liked it. I loved the mustard and rust tones of the hummingbirds and flowers but was the blue really me?

And what to make with it? After much thinking, I finally decided to make the Seren dress by Tilly and the Buttons, my favourite pattern makers. I bought the pattern last summer and although I had hacked a skirt out of it, I had yet to make the dress. Again, I couldn’t decide if I really liked it, or more specifically, which version would suit me best.

Instragram was great for me to scroll through many Seren makes and get some ideas. I knew I wanted the midi length and didn’t want to flash my tummy! But I couldn’t decide on the flounce, it looks great on the model and on most of the makes I’d seen. I also observed many RTW sundresses with flounces but I just wasn’t feeling it. I even put it to an instapoll where 60% of responders felt that I needed more flounce in my life!

Anyway, I went with my gut, no flounce but I opted for a frill on the straps instead. I also added in seam pockets. The frill was a bit of an after thought so it wasn’t attached in a professional way. If you go to the Tilly and the Buttons blog and look up Seren hacks, you will find a more professional method of adding a frill to the straps.

To make my frill piece, I actually traced the flounce from the Saraste blouse in the book ‘Breaking the Pattern ‘ by Named Clothing. I made it a little shorter and thinner, folded some rough pleats, pinned and stitched one frill piece to the back of each strap. There, job done, just don’t inspect my makes too closely!

The worst part of making this dress was the button holes. I am a sucker for button downs but I hate sewing button holes. I hate all the marking, spacing, sizing and careful stitching that goes into it. But there is something very pleasing about seeing a row of pretty buttons. I was really pleased to find these buttons from Dalston Mill, which match the pale mustard in the fabric so well. My button holes are not perfect, I use the four step method, which I’m still mastering. And like I said before, just don’t inspect my makes too closely.

Usually when I make a Tilly pattern, I cut a size 4 bodice and grade out to a 5 at my widest part. Having put on a bit of weight and because I didn’t want straining buttons, I decided to make a straight size 5. But I think it’s ended up with the bodice being a little bit baggy, might go back to my usual size arrangements next time.

One of the lovely things about making my own clothes is that I regularly get to browse wonderful fabrics. I love that I am beginning to branch out a bit and my wardrobe which was once full of red, navy, black and white, now has more mustard and rust and this lovely shade of blue. Next, I need to explore green that’s a colour that’s completely missing from my wardrobe. I’m also branching out with the type of fabric. I do love Jersey and medium weight cotton but working with this medium weight crepe was very pleasing.

So, I have made a dress that I really love. I think the blue does suit me and I love the drape and swish of the fabric. This dress will do for weddings, special gatherings, church or just for flitting like a hummingbird through hot, sunny days!

Africa, a different story

Photo credits, Abjel Communications

Last summer I was at an event hosted by Abjel Communications. The aim of the evening was to network, brainstorm, think and hear stories with the goal of getting a better story of Africa out there. A story of rich diversity, creativity, beauty, strength, struggle and hope among other things. Rather than just the hackneyed story of sameness, poverty and corruption.

I was a bit of an intruder as I don’t work in communications. I was there to support my friend who had organised the event and because I was interested. It was an enlightening evening. As I listened I thought “what can I do as a Ghanaian, a tutor and homeschool mum who likes to sew in her spare time?” As a teacher, my first thought was “educate”. As a hobby sewist with a love of Ankara fabric, my second thought was “wear your story “.

The dress I wore that evening was a Colette Patterns Peony dress that I made from some gorgeous Ankara fabric I got online. I made it 5 years ago for a wedding. My daughter and I were the only people of colour at that wedding, and I was the only one dressed in bright red and yellow! I got a lot of comments, all nice, none patronising. I was surprised.

I remember a time when, to my shame I was too embarrassed to wear anything that could mark me out as African. I didn’t want to stand out, I dreaded the comments people would make.

Why? Because there was a time before Fuse ODG, a time before Waka Waka and the FIFA world cup in South Africa. A time before Jollof rice was common parlance. A time before Chinelo Bally and Juliet Uzor brought ankara to the Great British Sewing Bee! There was a time when it wasn’t cool to be African. I remember that time painfully and I’m sad that the open teasing, bullying and discrimination my family and I received back in the 70s and 80s and the more subtle forms of the 90s, initially made me ashamed of who I was and then fed up of always defending and explaining who I was.

But not anymore! I grew up and shook off the discomfort of being African, I embrace who God has made me and where he’s placed me. However, it’s only been within the last decade that I began to appreciate ankara. For the past few years I have been collecting, wearing and sewing ankara, wax print, cloth, wrapper whichever you chose to call it. Even though I have lived in England for all but the first 2 years of my life, I love that this fabric connects me to the land and people that are part of me. I love to hear the stories behind, around and within the fabric and I love to share those stories with others.

A little word about cultural appropriation as it has been highlighted in the sewing world recently. Ankara is especially popular amongst West Africans but the wax print technique obviously doesn’t belong to Africa. The influences are from batik, a method of dying cloth first used by Indonesians, I believe. I love that there seems to be a new found love of wax print and it’s great seeing so many people using the fabric so creatively. Go for it, I say. Even wear a kaba and slit if you like! My hope is that an appreciation of the fabric will lead to a respect for the people who have made this fabric their own.

But when it comes to Kente, the traditional cloth of the Ashanti people, now that’s a different story! 😊😊 I’ll write a blog about that another time.

Woven Kente Cloth

Sew that stash

My knitting and stitching show haul

Hi, my name is Lena and I’m a fabric addict. My last fabric purchase at the time of writing was on March 1st at the knitting and stitching show. Almost 3 months now of no new fabric. In that time I have bravely walked into fabric stores like Sew Over It, Ray Stitch and Dalston Mill Fabrics and come out again with only the notions and trimmings I’ve needed for a project. Pretty proud of that. I haven’t even allowed myself the luxury of scrolling fabric on line for fear of succumbing to temptation.

But now I really, really want some fabric. I want some of the fabulous viscose and cotton lawns I saw on @sewmesunshine insta story. And the lovely striped Terry that popped up on @thecornishhaberdashery feed. I want some mustard double gauze. I want some red baby cord. I could go on.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so trite about an issue such as addiction. My love for fabric certainly isn’t an addiction, I can control it and I can live without new fabric purchases. Yet it’s been good for me to test this. I need to know that I can be satisfied with what I have, and I do have enough. I need to know that I can steward my resources carefully and not be wasteful. I need to be free from a hoarding mentality that wants to grab at all the good things in this life now, like this life is all that we have, because I don’t actually believe that it is. I also want to be able to revel in JOMO – joy of missing out rather than feel crushed by FOMO.

During this time of fasting I’ve wanted to sew from my existing stash, wash fabric and assign a project to as many of my purchases as possible. That’s what I’ve been doing. Take my haul from the knitting and stitching show for example, I’ve already used the striped mustard Terry to make a Tilly and the Buttons Cocco dress.

I’m about to cut into the bicycle print fabric to make a Named Clothing Saraste top. The floral teal and rust is for a Solina dress also from Named Clothing. The solid rust is for a pair of trousers I’m too scared to make at present and the ditsy cord is for a skirt for my youngest. The fruity sweatshirt fabric was actual a friend’s purchase, to make her a snuggly dress for the autumn. There, a plan and a purpose for each piece.

I’ll show you some more of my stash in future posts and also some of the things I made during my fabric fast. Oh and about that fast, I’m about to break it!

Sewn in the past

Memories, like the corners of my mind…

So many creatives I’m sure, owe their love of making to a relative. I, like several others owe a debt to my mum for instilling in me a love for dressmaking. Some of my earliest memories were of our large, dark flat in Newington Green, North London. In a little room just past the kitchen was a large industrial sewing machine, a Singer or a Brother, I can’t remember. Out of that room would often come the whirr whirr sound of the machine, and one of my favourite sounds ever, the shnip shnip of my mum’s scissors. If shnip isn’t a word, it really should be! Those sounds formed part of the background to my childhood.

Back in Ghana, my mum had been a seamstress but she didn’t carry on in that line upon coming to the UK. Yet dressmaking was still part of her and for many years she would sew her own clothes and clothes for my sister and I. Sometimes we absolutely loved the clothes that she made. I remember one in particular was black with a large floral print. Our class was doing an assembly on the plant kingdom and that dress was just perfect for it. But alas we soon became fashion conscious, ungrateful teenagers and snubbed my mum’s designs. And yes, she was a designer, she never used a commercial pattern but always drafted her own.

Eventually the industrial machine was sent to Ghana and replaced with a small machine. It was a New Home, I remember it because when I was 15 my mum gave it to me as I had shown an eagerness to learn. My Home Economics lessons at Highbury Fields School had taught me some basics but yielded little success. Unfortunately, although my mum was a great seamstress, she wasn’t a great teacher, that’s how I remember it, or perhaps I wasn’t a good learner.

Still, after many years of self learning, picking up tips and ideas from my mum and from books and screens, making the odd cushion here, the odd garment there, I have now come back to my love of sewing with great passion. Dressmaking excites me. As created beings it’s great that we get to be creative. It is a wonder to me that we can take limp 2-D sheets of cloth and turn them into items with form and structure, function and beauty.

All this ramble was by way of introduction. Hi, I’m Lena and I love to sew. I have done for several years but since 2018 have become more serious and slightly obsessive about it. Sewing is an outlet for my creativity, it is stimulating and challenging and it is, or can be a great stress buster.

I especially love working with knit fabric and African wax print. I sew slowly and my seam ripper and little scissors are my friends. My sewing journey is also one of waking up to the need to buy less, to think more carefully about the where and how of the fashion industry and the impact it is having on the world. I hope you’ll be inspired by my journey, do join me.