This post has been a long time coming, it really has.
So, way back in March, I was lucky to have the ABC award passed along to me by Tales of Mrs H (you can see the original post here and Nikki writes a lovely blog so do please pop over and visit her). Since then, I have also been very lucky to have the Sunshine Award passed along by Beth of Beth Butcher (this post) and the lovely Mia of HandmadebyMia (this post) again, lovely ladies with fab blogs so do please click the links if you don’t know them already.
Thank you ladies, it’s lovely you thought to pass these along to me.
As I’m worried this post is going to be very long, I am just going to address the ABC award questions. I couldn’t decide the best way to do this, I was tempted to do the ‘things about me’ version, as expected, but it would just be full of the usual: Orla Kiely & Chie Mihara addiciton….need to lose 2 stone, etc, etc, which I think you’ve heard before, so I thought I’d do a more practical one with my ‘top tips’ for sewing. Here we go…
Art pencils. I use pale coloured soft drawing pencils (in my case odd ones left over from my art college days) for marking out all patterns on tweed and felt, instead of tailors chalk. It stays a little bit longer on the fabric, gives a finer line and is easily removed with a light brushing.
Bernina. My sewing machine is a Bernina 1001 and is now over 15 years old, I bought it when I was a student and it cost £400, ex-display, a small fortune back then but it’s more than proved it’s worth. I also have a Bernina overlocker (a 1150), again it was expensive but I felt worth it. It’ll always be a Bernina for me.
Cut straight! Not a tip, more of a moan. If you are a fabric supplier, please, please, please cut your fabric with a straight line across. I could cry the number of times I’ve bought a yard/meter of fabric to find a fantastic slant of over 2 inches in the square across. If, like me, you plan and make the most of every tiny scrap, finding one side 2 inches short is really annoying. I’m amazed how often it happens.
Dylon Dyes. They are great for direct dyeing or even mixing colours to get the exact shade you want, just make sure you do a ‘mini’ dye test using the same ratio of dye powder you plan to use for the final fabric. I spent ages getting the right shade of red for my red riding hood mice, but is was so worth it!
Eraser pens, my favourite being the air erasable pen by Clover. Love them and use them every day, but goodness they are expensive.
Fiskars Scissors. A habit from my college days when we were expected to buy a pair, at great cost, and try desperately hard to keep them sharp. It’s super important that you only ever use fabric scissors for cutting fabric. I have various pairs of scissors (the oldest 2 being from college – so over 15 years old!!) with different coloured tapes so I can see which is which easily, and I use an old pair when cutting thicker things, heavy tweed or synthetics, such as inter-lining, so as to keep my best pair super sharp. The boys know they are NEVER to borrow any orange handled scissors for any reason.
Garibaldi, as in biscuits. I just like that word, it has nothing to do with sewing. I remember Victoria Wood once talking about how some words are just funny when used in her scripts and Garibaldi (which is a biscuit, we used to call them squashed fly biscuits when we were kids because they are full of currants) is one of those words. I can only ever imagine it being said by someone from Acorn Antiques, probably Mrs Overall.
Hoover. Actually a Dyson, but I was getting a bit desperate to find any ‘H’ in the sewing room. I have one permanently plugged in and Hoover up often. The amount of fluff created by sewing drives me a bit bonkers and ever since the doctor gave me a warning when I had pneumonia last year, about making sure I keep my workspace dust free I’ve am the vacuuming queen.
Ironing. I iron everything at every opportunity. I have a mini Ikea ironing board and a Tefal iron that stand next to my work bench, on top of a stack of Muji draws (the board gets a yearly new cover, as above, because the old cover gets worn and faded with continuous use). I often use a water spray bottle and an ironing cloth (which I use damp, if appropriate). The wetness of a damp cloth gives extra steam and also stops delicate fabrics burning, allowing you to use a higher heat setting than recommended. Incidentally, I never iron clothing or bedding, just my sewing work. I am such a bad housewife.
Jaycotts. I love this site, I bought my overlocker from here after some really good phone advice and I really like the service. They often have half price pattern sales as well.
Keep writing down your method when working on new designs. It always seems like it’ll be easy to remember, but when you’ve put it away and come back to it 6 months later you’ll have forgotten most of what you did and it helps so much to have it written down. I even write down the stitch details (ie width and length) when doing fancy zig-zag, and thread colours, otherwise I have to try to work it out all over again.
Light. It’s a blessing for working in, but it’s a nightmare for your stored fabric. Although nice neat piles of fabric, colour coordinated and stacked beautifully in glass cabinets looks lovely, you will cry (I know from experience) when you come to use it and find faded lines all over. At least fold your fabric right sides together, that way any damage is on the back. The same goes for shop stock, all of mine is kept in boxes in cupboards, or under beds and often covered in light-proof paper.
Maintenance. Clean your sewing machine often. Take the plate off (if the instructions recommend it) and clear out all the fluff after EVERY long project, especially if you’re sewing something like tweed, with lots of fibers. Oh and oil it. Mine gets a drop of machine oil on the spool case carrier every so often and it makes a huge difference to how smoothly it sews, and the noise it makes.
Needles. I cannot stress enough the importance of using the correct needle and changing it regularly in your sewing machine. It’s recommended that you change it for each project. If you have skipped stitches (usually a sign that the needle is the wrong size for the project), puckering or snagged threads (too blunt and too big a needle) try changing your needle. A very quick guide is:
- 60/8 For very fine fabrics (I rarely use this needle)
- 70/10 For light and sheer fabrics (such as liberty tana lawn)
- 80/12 For light to medium fabrics, such as cotton, linen etc. I use so many of these that I buy them in bulk – 100 at a time
- 90/14 For medium to heavier weight fabrics such as linen, wool, cord, denim
- 100/16 For heavy denim, tweed, inserting zips through multiple layers etc
- 110/18 You’re probably getting the idea here but these are for super heavy fabrics ((I rarely use this needle size)
And whilst we’re on a needle rant – you need to use the appropriate thread, it’s no good trying to use a heavy cotton on a 60/8 needle, it’ll simply be too thick and will fray at the needle eye and create a very dodgy stitch. I wont bother talking about ballpoint or twin needles, there’s loads of info to be found on the internet.
Organise. I share my studio with the boys, half for me and half for their playroom (this is a new arrangement, it used to be my studio and the spare room). I have to be quite organised to make the most of the space, I have loads of big Muji storage boxes, they hold most of my fabric, and lots of my stock and I also like using their little storage draws for things like cotton reels. Another favourite are empty glass GU pudding pots. Annoyingly they changed the design a while ago and the new ones don’t stack so well, but they are still good and any excuse to eat a GU pudding.
Patterns and paper. Yet another habit from my college days but I use brown paper for all my pattern cutting (especially when cutting clothes/costume patterns), which I buy on the roll, as I also use it for postal packaging. I tend to cut multiple versions of a pattern so I can place the pieces to get the best out of a length of fabric and I write my making notes on them, if needed. Oh and I use a 2B (soft) pencil to transfer patterns onto most fabric, or tailors chalk, or white art pencils (as in A), depending on the fabric.
Quality. It really does pay to buy the best you can afford, I think. As above, the Bernina sewing machines are expensive but if you consider how long I expect mine to last, I think the cost is worth it. The same applies for the Fiskars scissors and, I’d say, for most things. I favour good threads, fabrics and notions. I will always seek out a bargain, of course, but if I’m going to spend hours making a purse, for instance, then I want it to have a quality zip that will last.
Ribbonmoon. My very favourite supplier for haberdashery. It can be a bit of a trawl to find what you want here (there is almost too much choice) but they stock so much more than any other on-line store and the postal costs are nice and low.
Stamps. I buy stamps in bulk and weigh most parcels at home and stamp accordingly, that way I don’t have to make daily trips to the post office to send orders out, they can simply be popped into the post box on my school run. Also I use PIP (pricing in proportion) boxes where I can, so most things go as ‘large letters’ and not small packages, this makes a huge difference since Royal Mail put their prices up.
Threads. I use loads of different kinds. I favour Gutterman sew-all for lightweight fabrics, but I like a cotton thread where possible and my very favourite is Coats ‘Tre Cerchi’ (mercerized cotton). This replaced what used to be called ‘Sylko’ in the olden days and it is fantastic for creating a tight zig-zag when needed and for top stitching as well as sewing heavier fabrics. It is a slightly bulkier thread though so you do need to be using it on the correct fabric and with the correct machine needle.
Unpicker. I recently replaced my unpicker, the one I’d been using I’ve had for years and wow what a difference! It hadn’t occurred to me that mine was old and blunt until I tried the new one, which practically glided through the stitches I needed to unpick.
Vilene interlining. I use loads and why, oh why can’t everyone list the bloomin’ linings but their proper Vilene name? It drives me bonkers when I come to buy new and some sites list it as, say, ‘medium sew-in’??!!! Vilene make a number of weights of sew-in, which medium are you referring to?!
Wool felt. It rocks. I only ever use 100% wool felt, I find synthetic, or even synthetic mix makes my teeth go on edge when handling it (this is just a me thing, I think, I get the same grit teeth thing when handling toy stuffing). The wool ones seem to have a sturdier feel to them and a more ‘natural’ colour which suits my projects best. They cost a bit more, but I cannot imagine every changing this choice.
X ….nope, nothing coming to mind for this one, sorry.
Y…yellow…yoyo….nope, nothing here either.
Zips. Don’t be afraid of zips, there are so many great tutorials on-line to reference how to put them in, and once you’ve done a few it’ll seem easy.
Now instead of passing these awards on, I thought I’d give a shout of thanks to all the nice people who kindly have links on their blogs pointing back here. I don’t have a blogroll so this is my way of saying thank you, I really do appreciate it. If you do link to this blog and I’ve missed you off the list, I’m really sorry, just leave me a comment and I’ll update it, but I had to put this together by hand, from checking the incoming links and it took FOREVER!