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.

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