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….. Making pretty things
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Three children (17, 15, 13)*** Two parents *** one dog *** Country loving *** Cottage dwelling in the South-West of the UK. That’s us!

We’ve been blogging since January 2010, about everyday happenings that bring us joy.

Just a thought….

“A moment spent in wonder is worth a lifetime spent in awe.”

 

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thrifty sewing

All about the tablecloth

Almost to the day, two years ago, I found a hand embroidered tablecloth in a local charity shop. The stitches were beautiful. Clusters of flowers, joined by ribbons and bows. I cannot imagine how long it took the stitcher to stitch the whole cloth. It looks like love has been poured into the piece. All those little, precise stitches sewn in colourful threads. It hadn’t faded either.

I could be over romanticizing it, of course. It has been known. The embroiderer might have hated it. Completing it under duress. Stabbing the linen with each stitch, but I don’t think so. Something made them finish it. The stitches are too good. I can’t believe they didn’t feel some joy while making it. That’s good enough for me. I’m going with the love.  Just look at those flowers. I’d be proud to make it.

Needless to say, I wasn’t going to allow it to languish on the charity shop shelf any longer. It needed to be used and admired.

So I brought it home. Washed it. Used it once. Then put it away in the cupboard and there it stayed.

Sigh.

Part of the problem was that I wanted to use it outside. Now we tend to use a parasol for the tables outside, to provide extra shade. Any cloth we use would need a hole slap bang in the middle, which my rescued table cloth did not have.

A couple of days ago, inspiration struck. I’d make a hole. Not a big light bulb moment, admittedly, but maybe I needed the two years to realise I wasn’t going to use the table cloth for anything else, and it wasn’t going to be used unless a hole was cut.

Deep breath. Scissors out. Snip.

To tidy the cut edges and stop it fraying, I encased them in bias binding. I had just enough off-white coloured binding for the straight edges. I used a dark red to go round the hole. I hand stitched most of it, as I wanted to keep it true to its original making style.

Diving into my ribbon drawer, I found two pieces of red gingham ribbon. Different widths, but I decided the smaller one would look good at the table cloth edge without overpowering the surrounding flowers and the wider one would work in the centre.
They don’t distract from the embroidered flowers.

Final touch was to make a cream tea and serve it outside today. (Scones, with jam and cream, and tea.) I think it was a bit of a surprise for the children when they got in from school. Fine china and cream teas is not an every day occurrence.  Never to miss out on a good thing, the children seemed to take the change of routine in their stride. Scones soon disappeared. Let’s hope they don’t expect this every day from now on.

I’m so glad I gave the table cloth a new lease of life. It should stay on more times out of ten, against the wind too. I don’t know the story behind the cloth and how it ended up in a charity shop, but I hope the person who made it would appreciate the care I’ve taken and the use it will now get.

 

Five dressmaking rules worth breaking

I’ve cut out a new dress today. I fell for the colours. They remind me of summer days in my teens. The turquoise/cyan in particular. I remember my sister making a skirt and top in the same colour, one year.

I bought the fabric with a different dress in mind, but when the moment came to prepare the fabric for cutting, I knew it wouldn’t work. Plan B. A different dress pattern.

This often happens to me. I buy fabric for one project and then have second thoughts once I get home. Realisation hits that it would work better in a different style. Then starts the challenge. Is there enough fabric for the alternative dress pattern?

This time it needed less fabric. Me being me, still rolled up my sleeves to make something out of very little. I had the chance to eek out enough for a second sewing project. Two for the price of one. My kind of bargain.

So how do I squeeze more out of my fabrics? No. It’s not a question of persuading the children to play tug of war with it, although I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t take much persuading for them to give it a go. Nor do I go on a crash diet, or breathe in the whole time I’m wearing the outfit.

Want to know how I do it? These are dressmaking tips you won’t find in the pattern instructions.

Steps to saving fabric

Step 1: Don’t follow the cutting plan.

Every dressmaking pattern comes with diagrams, showing you how to position the paper patterns on your fabric. Ignore it.

To be honest, I seldom cut fabric out as the instructions suggest. As long as I line up the grainline (that big double headed arrow, in case you’re wondering) and respect the direction of the print (I need the fishes swimming in the same direction, right?), anything else is up for interpretation.

For instance, in this latest fabric cutting, I changed the foldline of the fabric when I cut out the front of the dress. It left me with a big rectangle of fabric that I could cut the sleeves from. Feels like free fabric.

If I’d followed the instructions and lined up the selvedges, as suggested, the front of the dress would have been cut out of the middle of the fabric, leaving two thin rectangles of fabric on each side. No use to man or beast. On the printed plan this was mostly left as waste fabric. Madness when you stop to think about it.

Be creative. Find a way to free up large areas of the fabric, rather than being left with lots of small pieces.

Warning: Don’t cut anything out until all the pattern pieces have been positioned on the fabric.

Step 2: Use contrasting fabrics for yokes, hems, etc

 

Most patterns assume you are going to use the same fabric throughout the project. Some allow a contrast for one part, like the collar, but not all. There is nothing to say you have to stick to one fabric for all the other parts. Yokes, sleeves, pockets, hems – they can be different.

A confession story best illustrates this one. Last year I bought fabric to make a blouse for my daughter. Such cute fabric she had selected. In my excitement, I completely forgot that I needed more fabric to match up the cars at the front of the blouse. My bad. It looked like I couldn’t avoid slicing cars in half at the button-up front, if I wanted to make the blouse out of this fabric.

Humph!

If I’m going to spend time hand making a garment, I want it to look good at the end. No half cars, please.

I put my thinking cap on. After pattern matching the front of the blouse, there was no fabric left for the back yoke, so I used a coordinating blue fabric for it, that I found in my scrap bag.

Result: a fun blouse that looked better than I had originally imagined. I still used the fabulous fabric to good effect, but the blue made it pop out even more.

Step 3: Patchwork fabric

Carrying on with the same blouse, I didn’t have enough fabric for the back either. Crazy, I know. Anyone wondering why I didn’t give up on this project? I am.

So, what did I do? I got creative with my cutting. I sliced the back paper piece in two and positioned the halves on the fabric, allowing for a small seam allowance, so that the car patterns would match. Once it was sewn up, from a distance, it looks like one piece of fabric. Mission accomplished.

There is nothing in the rule book to say fabric cannot be patched together. In fact, I’ve read of haute couture houses cutting up stripes to make the perfect zigzag fabric, when needed.

Step 4: Use different fabric for facings that don’t show.

If the fabric isn’t going to show, then use a different one. Pockets tucked in the seams will not show. Save fabric by using a similar fabric. I made four polar bear pyjamas. Each pair has pockets made from different brushed cotton fabric from previous projects.

This is my brown, cord dress. (Eek! I still haven’t shared photos of this dress here.) In the instructions, it listed the neck facing to be cut from the same fabric as the rest of the dress. I had lots of fabric, but I’m always looking to save it. Also I didn’t much fancy the black cord rubbing against my neck.

So I dived into my recycling pile and pulled out a silk shirt of my husband. I loved that shirt, but he didn’t. I cut it up and used it as the neck facing. It gave the structure required, but with the added silky, softness, and I have enough brown fabric left for a skirt.

Step 5: Change lengths or shape

My rose dress used a lot of fabric. It is a fit and flare. I didn’t really have quite enough fabric. I overlapped the pattern slightly on seams and hem allowance.  I shortened the sleeve length slightly. These little tweaks made all the difference.

On one or two garments, I’ve reduced the seam allowance. I always neaten seams. I want my garments to look good on the inside too. Using fabric tape, I can still ensure the fabric won’t fray and unravel when there’s less fabric.

Break the rules

I’m using the term “rules” in a very loose way. There are no design police who turn up and put you straight if you ignore the instructions.

I know the handmade projects that have caused the most problems, have turned out to be my favourites, because I’ve not been able to follow the rules. My daughter’s blouse certainly gave me a few head scratching moments, and I love the touch of green in my brown dress.

I’ve not used any indie design patterns. I have no idea how prescriptive their instructions tend to be or how easy they can be modified. I do love using sewing patterns from the so-called Big Four (Simplicity, Vogue, McCalls, Butterick) but I like to make them my own. Using the instructions as suggestions rather than anything else.

By mixing and matching, I think it makes a handmade garment that little bit more special. More of a designed feel. Saving fabric at the same time. Not something to be sniffed at.

Have you any tips to make your fabric go that little bit further?

Other frugal dressmaking tips:

Sew you have a sewing machine – next a pattern

cutting pattern costs

When it comes to sewing patterns, there are three basic routes:

  • a ready-made pattern,
  • make-your-own or
  • wing it (not so much a pattern).

Following on from my last post about fabric, if you are going to make an item of clothing, some kind of plan has to be followed. I’m going to talk about the ready-made patterns today. Hopefully, next time I can show you how to make a few basic ones of your own.

 

pattern muddle1

When you start out sewing, most people would recommend following a ready-made pattern. Either from a big design company like Simplicity or Burda, or an independent designer like Oliver + S, or Amy Butler. Some beginners swear by the independent designers as they tend to spell out each stage in more detail. A big helping hand. The bigger names assume that you know which is the best type of seam to use where and how to neaten edges. They may not be explicit. I learnt using this kind of pattern and find them more flexible to use.

Which type of pattern  to use, is up to you. Once you’ve tried a few, you may find you prefer one designer to another. I would suggest that you have a go with both types, as the choice of patterns is obviously greater. There tends to be lots of finished projects posted up on the internet, where people have used independent designer patterns. Usually with tips and hints. Also true of the big names.

Pattern layout vw camper shirt

When you buy patterns, the cost can really mount up. I’m going to give you ten tips on how you can make the most of your bought patterns and keep the cost down.

1. The big names often have a few weeks each year, where they will reduce the price of their patterns. They can be half the price. This can be a great way to add to your collection. Keep an eye on their official sites and twitter feeds.

2. Most fabric shops will have a collection of discontinued patterns. My local shop has a couple of old ice cream tubs on the top of a cupboard, full of old, unused patterns.

The price is dropped to just a couple of pounds at most. It’s worth flicking through these to see if there is anything that you could use.

AJ new top

(current sewing project)

3. Some patterns, will include several different clothing items. I have children’s patterns that have shorts, skirts, tops and jackets all in one pattern.

I love this kind of collection, because I can make a whole wardrobe from the one pattern. It costs more initially, but still cheaper than buying them individually. Admittedly, you need to like all the items, otherwise, its not such a good deal.

4. Check out charity shops and car boot sales. I’ve found some fabulous vintage patterns. Make sure the pattern is complete and no one has started cutting it up. It would have to be an amazing pattern for me to buy one that’s already been used. Missing bits and bigger sizes may be cut away.

(Check out Simple Simon & Company’s “Ugly Duckling” Pattern challenge. They could make it into a coffee table book. It is fab, especially if you love vintage)

vintage patterns

5. Pick and mix which features you like in a pattern. Alter the length of the sleeves. Change the neckline. Add the embellishments that you want. Put the dress bodice of one dress with the skirt of another. Why not? Especially true of vintage patterns, where basic shape may be fine, but the huge puffed sleeves are not desired.

6. If you are unsure, use some disposable fabric, like an old sheet, to cut out the pattern and tack together. Try it on, or use a dressmaker’s mannequin, to see if the fit is right. Before you cut into the more pricey fabric.

secondhand pattern

(old sheet cut out to check fit)

7. I always use pattern tracing paper to copy the paper pattern. Especially when making children’s clothes. This way if I’m making a size 8 then I don’t cut away and lose the size 10 of the printed pattern. I can make any alterations, such as length or neck line. Also the tracing paper survives repeated pinning so much better than the thin tissue paper. I use some patterns over and over again. They need all the help they can get, to survive!

8. Ask around. Friends and family may be a good source of unused patterns. (Keep it a secret, but we all buy patterns, that we don’t end up using. Shh!)

setting up pattern

9. Take a serious look at the patterns you already have. Just how many straight skirt patterns does one girl really need? (Not looking at anyone in particular!) You really do not need a huge collection of patterns.

10. Check out magazines. Some craft/sewing magazines will have pull out patterns. I made a lot of my work clothes, when I first started working, using magazine patterns. Including a suit! Also worth searching for free sewing patterns on the internet. You’ll need to print out and tape sheets of paper together.

laying out pattern

And one for luck:

11. All pattern sizes vary. My girls are tall and skinny. I find I use a much smaller size than the age suggested on the pattern and then add length. The actual measurements given on the back of the envelopes are usually a good guide. I check their measurements before I go shopping. Ask to look at the envelope before you buy.

So there you are. If you buy wisely and use patterns over and over again, then the initial outlay per outfit made from the pattern, will be reduced. I’m going to include a couple of easy ways to make your own patterns next.

Anyone else got some good tips on buying cheap patterns or finding free ones?

Photos

There have been cases when people lifted my photos and words, and used them without credit to me or asking permission first. Using them for their own commercial gain. I have now added a level of security to deter people from doing this. Apologies to people who do play nicely. If you would like to use any of my photos, please contact me.

Copyright notice:

All my words and photos are copyrighted to me. They cannot be used for commercial benefit by anyone else. If you would like to use any of them, then please ask me first and don’t just take. Written permission only. Don’t pass my words, photos or ideas off as your own. It’s not nice.

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