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. . . . . . A place to contribute, exchange tips and ideas and find further info on the LDC group on Meetup.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Once upon a time in Jaipur ... A Dabu jacket- Part 1.

This is the story of how this jacket came into being.

Actually the tale begins four years ago in Myanmar in this weaving shed.

Having been trekking in the hills in the North where there was no time or opportunity to wash my clothes- any water requirements meant a trek to the village pump-


so my rucksack contained only dirty laundry and I longed for something clean to wear.  Hence my purchase there of this rather boring looking hand woven top.

It has been my constant travelling companion ever since.  It can be worn as a blouse (loose and cool in hot countries) or layered over a t-shirt or wool sweater (depending on how cold the weather gets), has pockets and doesn't show the dirt.  I have been meaning to copy it for some time and the recent Club "Trace your favourite garment" Sewalong gave me the impetus to do so.  I used tips from this video  by Ana of CocoWawa Crafts on Youtube.  Watching it really helped me to approach copying in an organised manner, especially the advice to make a list of all the pieces you need to trace before you start.  I used my current favourite tracing material, horticultural fleece, to trace off the pieces; I describe my method on this blog previously here .  Using this method I could pin the pattern pieces together after tracing and check the fit and whether the seams were true.  Right first time!- Thanks Ana.
The story now moves to Jaipur, March 2017, where I joined a delightful group on one of the textile holidays organised by Jamie Malden of Colouricious
This holiday focused on Block Printing using traditional carved wooden pattern blocks.

 We enjoyed a number of workshops at different venues trying out block printing methods.  One of these was dabu, a mud-resist form of printing that has been in existence since at least the 7th century A.D.  A thin paste is made from a mixture of mud, gum, lime and wheat chaff and the wooden pattern block dipped into this and applied to the prepared fabric- just like this:

Next sawdust, of which there is plenty from the making of the wooden printing blocks, is sprinkled over the printed fabric and it adheres to the wet sticky paste.

The fabric is then left to dry in the sun.

Once dry it is taken to the indigo vat for dyeing.

 The area covered by paste and sawdust resists the indigo dye.  You can see the areas of resist clearly on these cloths that have just been removed from the vat and spread to dry.  The dabu still remains on the cloth.

Subsequently the cloth is washed to remove the paste and reveal the lighter design.  This is a simplified explanation of the technique (much more complicated designs can be achieved with multiple dyeing) but this is exactly how I made the cloth for my jacket.

Coming in Part 2- the making of the jacket.  In the meantime I leave you with some pictures of fellow sewists in the village where we went to do this type of printing.
A tailor making a shirt :


A woman stitching a quilt:


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Getting to grips with an unfamiliar sewing foot

Do you use more than a couple of the sewing feet that come with  your machine? I must admit that I didn't.

The walking foot on a Janome sewing machine

I swapped the standard foot with the walking foot (also known as a even feed foot or dual feed foot) for most of my straight stitching: preventing slippage of one fabric layer is a wonderful thing!  I don't miss the standard foot at all.

I also use my zip foot for sewing in zips, obviously, - this tends to be the only thing that I remove my walking foot for.


But I didn't use all these other sewing feet except for trying out the blind hem foot (which works fabulously!) - the other day I was thinking about why.  I have a feeling that I somehow thought that I should be able to do all kinds of things with just these two feet, almost as if that was some kind of challenge.  How silly!

The other reason is likely a fear of a bad experience, that trying would make me feel very dejected (yes, call me chicken).  Just ask me about my experiences sewing in invisible zips because I didn't realise that I had the wrong foot. Yah, that one.

But the thing is that a specialised sewing foot can make your sewing much easier, if you give yourself enough time to experiment with it and learn how to use it without wanting to throw your machine out of the window...  You know, when things go really badly.

It is very easy to get discouraged when sewing isn't going well and you don't know why.  One of the more horrible feelings that could make you feel so wretched that you stop sewing. Let's not do that!

So how can you get to grips with a different foot without feeling like a right fool?


Sewing machine feet come in two different kinds on the main: those you screw on and those that snap on. Your machine will only take one rather than the other.  Make sure that the manufacturer of the foot lists it as suitable for your specific machine model - if you're not sure that you want to spend the money on the genuine part, maybe you can borrow it from a friend or try it out at their place?  It'll give you the best idea of whether it's a good investment. A generic foot may sound good but if it doesn't work then it's wasted money.

But let's say that you have the right foot and you installed it - that alone can take quite a while!  I try to do something unfamiliar only when I have lots of time and there's no pressure.

My very best tip is to check that a) you picked the right machine setting for your purpose, and b) that the machine needle will not hit the foot itself.

To do this safely: hold on to the sewing thread at the back (or use a starter patch) and then move your machine needle by turning the wheel by hand.  If the foot or the setting is wrong then the needle could hit the foot itself on any downward motion that make up the stitch.

Some feet work with a straight stitch and others with a zigzag stitch - that's why it is important to manually move the needle through a whole repeat of the stitch.

Use a test patch of fabric because it is much easier to manoeuvre a small piece.  Check for tips for using your specific foot online and on YouTube - there may be a trick or hint that's not obvious, e.g. that the fabric needs to touch the guide's side of the narrow hem foot when you guide it into the roll-over bit.  A rolled hem foot may behave similarly, please check.

Use your slowest sewing speed if you can adjust it and then play around some. Use a different kind of fabric if your first sample fabric turns out as stubborn and non-userfriendly, see what works for you.  Once you get to grips with another fabric, you can go back to the one you'll want to use.

If the foot isn't doing what you thought it would - there is a chance that it is a different foot or that the fabric needs to lie a different way to feed under the needle. YouTube videos can be particularly helpful for that.

For example a blind hem foot works by catching just a couple of threads of a fabric fold - so the fabric has to lie the right way.  I find it quite counter-intuitive and tend to try it the wrong way round first. Ugh.

The way you pin a seam can make a difference: a narrow hem foot won't work with pins put in perpendicular to the edge, you need to start off with just the one pin placed parallel to the edge, - any additional pins are in the way because you need to hold the fabric to guide it. I think this probably applies to a rolled hem as well.

There is a good article on the Threads website about the narrow foot:

The start of the three page article, and here is the link to all the pages. I think the first link has a bit more information.


What sewing feet have you tried and do you have any advice on how best to use them? Please share!

~ ~ ~

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Tracing the pattern from a RTW garment

Have you traced the pattern of a ready to wear garment, one you bought in the shops?

It can be a great way to get a sewing pattern because it is a clothing item that you know fits well enough to want another one just like it.  Or at least with as few adjustments as needed. Preferrably the ones you know how to do.

I bought a lovely short-sleeved blouse with intriguing double layer ruffles from a charity shop.  I did realise at the time that I keep going for this very pale blue, chalky looking shade and then end up not wearing it because it makes me look pasty, to be brutally honest.  Do I learn from this and stop buying clothes or knitting yarn this colour?  Heck no, course not.


So it seems that I bought a pattern instead.

It took me a while to start taking this blouse apart.  I saw the great tip of leaving half the blouse intact so I can see how it goes back together - I only need one set of pattern pieces after all.  I'm glad I read that on a helpful blog somewhere, I'm not confident that I would have realised.  Start wielding a seam ripper and I keep on going...

This blouse fits fairly well.  The dart is not quite in the right place and I need to suppress a wedge of fabric in the underarm area, I am optimistic that I know how to adjust the underarm seams as well as the sleeve width. Fingers crossed.

I flattened each piece carefully, straightened what edges need to be straight (e.g. the centre back that will be cut on the fold), and weighed the whole down with my trusty pattern weights.  Also known as glass coasters in another life - I use them with the felt feet pointing up, they work fabulously.

I drew around each piece making sure that the shapes make sense: an armhole needs to look scooped and not jagged, no corner should look too sharp or seamlines lie in an undulating S-shape.  So far so good!  The test will come when I sew this up in a toile fabric.  I haven't got that far yet.

I did add more generous seam allowances because these were very narrow (the blouse was industrially made after all) and I may have to re-do the flounces. These are a circular shape that looks a bit like a Viennese whirl. Mine have an element of squashed doughnut to them, so I may compare to a commercial pattern I have in my collection. Just to sense-check.

I also traced some stretch fabric leggings that I loved but nasty moths had left a gaping hole near the knee, damn them.  I'm delighted that this worked really well too.  The pieces look astoundingly legging-like, just like a commercial pattern!  At least I like to think so.

I ripped apart most seams on one half only.  I ended up with the back piece and also a flat front piece that I left whole even though there is an internal seam that dissects it in a very intriguing style line.  That's the reason why I wanted to trace off this pattern.  I'd be looking for a pattern like it till the cows come home and not find it.

If I had ripped these pieces apart I'd end up with a very thin strip for the side panel. I think it would be very tough to lay this out straight.  A piece as narrow as this would go wonky as soon as you look at it.  Instead I traced the entire front piece, and then started to roll it back gently and marked the internal seam every couple of centimeters. That was a great way to prevent problems.

Have a look at the photo:


I reckon I've done well for not having traced off patterns in a pretty long time.  I haven't yet put these pattern pieces through their paces, but I live in hope that it'll go well too.

You may be able to trace a simple garment off without having to take it apart, as long as you can get each piece to lie flat.  But shapes would get distorted too easily if trying to trace off a complex item with multiple seams like my blouse.  I am lucky, I can't wear either of them so I didn't have to worry about it.

Have you sewn anything from a traced off pattern, how did the whole process work out for you? It would be really useful to hear of people's experiences - always good to learn from others. Please share in the comments!

~ ~ ~

Monday, 13 March 2017

Sewing tips - or I love YouTube videos!

Isn't YouTube fantastic for all kinds of things?  It most definitely is extremely useful for the many videos about sewing and dressmaking.  The trick is finding them.

Here is one on Ten Sewing Tips that I think is very good. One of the best 12 minutes you'll spend!

National Sewing Circle's '10 Sewing Tips from the Experts'

You may have come across some of these, but I bet that there is something here that is useful. I know that I had not heard of surgical seam rippers before (they sound kind of dangerous? But they could be quite good for the purposes described) and I thought the tip of how to test whether a sewing maching needle is the right size by threading the loose needle by hand and checking if the needle runs easily along the thread - that tip alone was worth the time watching the clip!

Some of the tips concern the sewing machine, others are general tips. All useful.


I really liked what Ellen March says about reading your sewing machine's manual.  Now if you're like me then your eyes glaze over at the thought of reading through the whole thing when you just bought your machine, or even later on (let's face it: none of us did that when we first got our machines. I know I didn't).  It takes a lot of focus and concentration to follow along - particularly when it is all theoretical at this stage, without an immediate practical use.

I would rather break this up into several sessions and avoid the long slog of a single sitting reading.

My problem is that I tend to forget things that I don't use soon after reading them. That's why my advice is to dip in and out of your manual and for that reason it is a really fantastic idea to designate a permenent place for it near your sewing machine. You'll want to know where it is at all times - it's beyond frustrating to start searching for the damn thing every single time you'll want it.

I learned how to do lapped zips from my manuel. The drawings are very useful and the description tells you what you're looking at. I don't do lapped zips all that often and therefore find it a very good idea to open my manual to remind myself how to place the fabric layers and which bit to fold over or under...

It saves time and energy that I prefer to use for actual sewing.


Having praised this video, I also have a book containing hundreds of sewing tips (by both experts and everyday seamstresses), called: "1,000 Clever Sewing Shortcuts & Tips", by Deepika Prakash from Patternreview.com - it is very good. There is so much material in this book that I have not been able to even get through a tenth of it.  This blog post reminds me of the book. I'll think I'll go and put it with my machine manual!

What are your tips of something useful that you do all the time? Please share!

Friday, 10 March 2017

Sewing motivation in little steps



You know what sewing is like: you're really into it, making great progress, you're so looking forward to the finished garment... and then something happens that slows you down, interrupts your flow, gums up the works - you put your sewing aside, and despite your good intentions, you don't get round to pick it up again another day. 

Unfortunately it often happens that a short break from sewing results in a much longer period of not sewing at all.  Sewing is not like knitting that's easily put-downable and pick-upable, to coin a phrase.  You have to pull the sewing machine back out, free up the space for all the stuff you need, get all the bits back together, - and you generally need to plan things a lot more than just carrying on on impulse.


I have found it incredibly easy to lose my motivation to sew.  While the thought of my massive fabric stash, and all those lovely patterns, and all these exciting ideas what I could make (if only), and what design features I could incorporate... they seem to percolate away but not lead anywhere.

Tash has written a great post about sewing motivation, I very much enjoyed it.  My post is about  one technique that I use to overcome the not-sewing-but-I-really-want-to slump: do something, anything that comes to mind, even if it's just a little something.


Small steps, the itty-bitty tiny ones, are very useful to regain your motivation to sew again.

The sorts of things I like to do, just one at a time, - in no particular order:

  • Read through some of the sewing instructions to check how it deals with a particular part of the sewing process
  • Wind my bobbin - ready to sew whenever that might be ('bobbin mates' are great for keeping a bobbin spool and sewing thread together)
  • Look at my fabric and stroke it a bit (yes really. Though that works slightly better with wool when comtemplating a knitting project)
  • Clearing my cutting table. You never know it might make me spread the fabric out and maybe even cut out some of the pieces... or all of them once I get started and it's not as horrendously labourious as I expected...
  • If I am further along: pin something, measure something, baste or tack pieces together, do a little pressing with the iron, ...
  • Set up the ironing board, including iron, tailor ham, clapper or whatever else I like to use
  • Heck, even dust off my sewing machine.  It likes a bit of tender loving care occasionally
  • Write a bullet point list of steps needed from now to the end of the project, or just a couple of points of my next steps
  • Lay my dressmaking pattern envelope on my sewing table, or put it with my machine.  Adding the fabric to keep it company is good too
  • Cut out the pattern tissue pieces.  Even if I only start with the big ones, or the little ones, I can usually go on to do all of the ones I need (I have big freezer bags, with a ziplock top, that I put the tissue pieces, pattern envelope and other materials into ready to use)
  • Look at the pattern envelope to familiarise myself with the line drawing, what kinds of pieces there are, what shape they're in, where the seams are. That sort of thing
  • Take out the sewing instructions and circle all the numbers of the pattern pieces for my chosen view or option
  • Go out and buy or look for the other bits I'll need: check the zip colour and length against my fabric, pull out interfacing, set out pins, chose buttons (or pin different options to the fabric to see which I like), grab tape or ribbons, double-check that my sewing thread hasn't gone dry and brittle if I had it a while (been there, done that), double-check the pattern for anything I forgot
  • Check out the fabric in the mirror to see what it'll look like on me
  • Sew 'just' the one seam... which usually leads to a bit more... and this little bit here, and that one bit there...

Any of these things might be all I do at the time.  It gives me a feeling of satisfaction that I managed to successfully put a stop to my slump.  And strangely enough one small thing is often enough to do a second little something: either straight away, or a bit later in the day.

The best thing about the little step approach is that everything more is a bonus and you're not expecting that you'll complete your project in a few hours from the time you get up to do anything.  If you're literally only reminding yourself of the sewing instructions then that's enough to get you thinking about things in a practical manner again.

And that seems to losen the paralysis of "I really want to sew, so why don't I?"

What other small steps can you think of?  What do you do to get yourself over a long pause in sewing?  What gets your creative energy flowing?

Please let us know in the comments!