Grand Plans 2018

Yes, I have plans (both grand and cunning), and I’m starting to feel excited!
Next year I’m going to be running two concurrent series on this blog. The first will record the progression of learning to sew my own clothes, starting with the simplest of garments (hint: it’s a square) and working my way up to a dress.

The other series I’m planning follows Colette’s Wardrobe Architect through the process of planning a wardrobe and figuring out what precisely you want/need to create for it. Wardrobe planning without the frustration of shopping – what could be better?

Each month will see me working on something slightly more complex than the last month, as well as doing one “week” of the Wardrobe Architect.
I’m still working out the details, balancing challenge with prudence, but planned projects include a simple skirt, an apron, a pair of shorts and a fabric torso suitable for making patterns from.

Clothes rackThere will be a total of about nine projects, so as to allow an extra month for the more complex ones. I’m a beginner, after all: not for me the churn-out-one-a-week challenges.

Nor are there likely to be zips, stretch fabric, linings, three-piece suits, outerwear or other more advanced projects and techniques. At least, not this year.

But I’m not just blogging about these so you can all hear what I’m up to. I’d love company!

Of course, you may not be interested in sewing a dress (or some of the other garments I’ve got planned) but sewing skills are sewing skills, regardless of what garment you use to learn them. Pick your target garment (in my case, a dress), list the skills, and lay out the garmenty steps required to learn them all.

Bear in mind, I’m no pro and this isn’t going to be a class. But if you’ve been wanting to learn to sew clothes for yourself (or others) and need a path, a catalyst, or just someone alongside to swap notes with, I’m happy to help. (Those of you who are further advanced are more than welcome to chip in with advice as we go along!)

All going well, we’ll arrive in 2019 with mapped-out plans for our wardrobes as well as the skills to get ourselves there. Or, at least, some of them; sewing is, after all, more a class of skills than a single skill itself.

You don’t have to do both series, either – you can do one or the other, or pick and choose what you’ll do and what you won’t. It’s entirely up to you how much you want to join in (or if you’d just like to comment from the sidelines).

We don’t start til January, so you’ve got plenty of time to consider and decide.
Jean Baptiste Jules Trayer Bretonische Schneiderinnen 1854

Literary Handwork

Reading and handwork make a perfect pair, in my opinion: the two things I enjoy doing most, miraculously combined. Sometimes I even enjoy the reading more than actually doing the thing itself. And on those occasions when a project outlasts enthusiasm, what better to rekindle the fires than finding the same spark in a book?
Albert Anker - Strickendes Mädchen beim lesen (1907)
Happily, literature is full of examples of hand-workers – particularly in those classics which were written in the days when handwork for women was just ‘work’ and everyone (unless a gentleman of the purely decorative class) was expected to keep themselves busy.

So it is with the Dashwood girls in Sense and Sensibility. “Sir John Middleton, who called on them every day for the first fortnight, and who was not in the habit of seeing much occupation at home, could not conceal his amazement on finding them always employed.”

Or take Mansfield Park, also by Jane Austen. One of her more underrated books, I feel, with one of her more underrated heroines. Fanny is always busy with handwork: her own, or someone else’s. Helping Aunt Bertram the indolent, or being press-ganged into the thrifty machinations of Aunt Norris. And unlike her cousins, she does work of a high calibre.

Mp-Brock-10Then there are the March girls in Little Women, who ” adopted Jo’s plan of dividing the long seams [of sheets] into four parts, and calling the quarters Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and in that way got on capitally, especially when they talked about the different countries as they stitched their way through them.” The book also includes knitting, dressmaking (for humans and dolls), and the embroidering of a pair of slippers (“grave yet cheerful pansies on a deeper purple ground”).

Not all literary hand-workers are enthusiastic. Catherine, from Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman, is continually being nagged by her old nurse Morwenna to work on her spinning, sewing, embroidery and the like, when she would rather be running wild outside. “They found the remains of several spindles, many skeins of wool, and an unfinished tapestry in the muck from the privy. Why is everyone so certain they are mine?”
Reine Berthe et les fileueses, 1888
Other fictional handworkers include Miss Silver, who is always knitting something, usually for her great-niece or great-nephews, and who designs and executes her own crochet trimmings to boot. Miss Marple also knits, but in less detail. Devotées (or, indeed, devotés) of quilting can enjoy the works of Jennifer Chiaverini and Earlene Fowler. Embroiderers, or those considering taking up embroidery, should make a beeline for Embroidery Mary.

On the non-fiction side, there are plenty of books about the history and practice of various crafts, and then there are books of craft humour. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is an outstanding outlier in this field.

For those who are passionate about both literature and craft, there are books of crafts inspired by books, which you can add another layer to by making the crafts from the books of crafts inspired by books. While reading the originatory books, if you want to complete the circle and you have the much-desired (by me at least) ability of reading while working with your hands.

Meyer von Bremen Strickendes lesendes Mädchen 1863Alternatively, you can follow the grand old tradition of having one person read while everyone else handworks; or its modern, more solitary equivalent: the audio book.

What are some of your favourite handworky books? Recommendations eagerly sought!

Pocket Restoration

Holes in your pockets. The very image of lack and loss. But do not despair – the garment and its pockets can be saved. All you need are pins, needle, thread, a bit of fabric and the will to make a difference.

If you’re anything like me, the invalided garment sits in a heap in the mending pile until you either grit your teeth and get on to the job of mending it, or decide you don’t need it that badly after all and out it goes.

Laundry basket full of ferrets!
Signs You Have Left Your Mending Too Long #14: Ferret Infestation

And so it was with my husband’s trousers (except without ferrets). Before anyone objects to me mending my husband’s clothes for him, let me point out that he does my techie ‘mending’ for me. From each according to their ability; to each according to their need, as the apostle Paul said, though admittedly, not in those words.

The problem wasn’t so much finding the time or motivation to mend them, as finding the know-how. Because the problem was one I’d never tackled before. I knew I could put a patch on a patch pocket, but this is the other kind: set-in. Further complicated by discovering that the whole side of the pocket was so worn you could read through it.

Highlighting of hole provided by The Leaky Pen of Yesteryear. And how come we have yesteryear and yesterday but not yestermonth or yesterweek?

Would I need to replace a whole pocket? Did I know how? (Clearly, no.) But that didn’t stop me. The first thing I did was to wash and iron a long thinnish piece of calico (or muslin, depending on where you come from). That was it for a month or so while my eyes recovered.

The next step was to lay the calico (as I shall call it) over the worn side of the pocket and pin along the only straight line the pocket had. I used the selvedge (or selvage) for this. Some people say you should never use the selvedge for anything, but clearly, I am not one of them.

Then it was a matter of pinning, trimming, and pinning some more. Handy hint: if you’re going to tuck an edge under a pre-existing overhang, you can push the whole cloth under and then press down. Pull the fabric out and it’s got a crease showing you where the fold will be. Cut the excess off, a short distance from the fold, and Bob’s your uncle. Example:


In this case, the folded hem will fit under the waistband (the bit marked Domino). Don’t forget to fold the fold the other way to pin in place – raw edge underneath.

Carry on trimming and pinning, until the fabric is fitted all the way around.

To make my life that much easier, instead of shaping the calico to the curve of the pocket at the bottom, I simply pinned a hem and folded it over to the back of the pocket. Like this. (Clicking may result in a bigger image.)


Then I tacked it. Tacking is one of those things, like flossing your teeth and knitting a gauge swatch, that you know you ought to do, but frequently don’t. Maybe it’s my age beginning to show, but I find I am now doing all of those things. I don’t say I necessarily enjoy them, but I enjoy not having the after-effects of not doing them: wiggly seams, dentist’s drills, and outsize socks.

The other important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t tack through too many layers. If you can’t get your hand into the pocket, you’ve gone too far. The same goes for the fold-up seam at the bottom, unless you want a squared-off pocket.


The other good thing about tacking (besides the stability it gives when doing the actual sewing) is that you can have a try-on without the victim wearer having to do the Dance of Extreme Delicacy as pin-points menace their recoiling flesh. This is a chance to make sure that there are no uncomfortable bumps, chafing spots etc; and that the pocket hangs properly.

Then you retrieve the garment, and (at least if you are me) repeat the procedure from the top for the other pocket.


Once it’s all placed, pinned, tacked and tried, you are ready to sew. I sewed by hand, because there are some things that are fiddlier by machine than hand, and sewing through only some of the layers is one of those things. It didn’t take very long, to my surprise.

Once you’ve sewn everywhere that was tacked, you can take out the tacking. Finished? No, not quite. You still have a hole on the inside of your pocket, and unless you want to deal with the anguish of trying to extract something from between the original pocket and the new layer, you had better take the final step.

Simply sew an outline of running stitch around each hole, fastening it to the new layer. (But not all layers, unless you want a donut pocket.) As thus:


Well done! You have rescued a garment from the looming shadow of the rubbish dump and restored it to useful life. And that is what I call practical ethics.