Zara – what happened to you girl?

You know how there are some shops that you can always rely on to have something you’ll like. TopShop, Oasis and Warehouse are my personal high street faves. I always know I can pick up a little top or dress with a quick scoot around in my lunch hour (not that I do much scooting anymore – I’m more likely to be rooting through the pattern books in John Lewis).

Similarly there are a few high street shops I fall in and out of love with: Dorothy Perkins (Dotty P’s) goes through stages of having the most adorable little shift dresses and tunics at bargain prices, a trip to Mango can occasionally unearth a jewel-bright cardy or a leopard print and my mum buys underwear sets for me from ‘Primarche’ like there’s a national shortage of undercrackers.

But Zara? No, never. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been in there and walked out again within 30 seconds because all I can see are rows of fusty pussy-bow blouses (that no decent girl would wear without a vest) and chinos. It’s never really been my thing… until now.

On a quick hoof to the afore-mentioned craft emporium that is John Lewis haberdashery today, I was yanked back by this rather fetching (and totally bang-on trend) polkadot top in the window.

Green polka dot top

Isn’t it lush? I love that shade of green and I am a sucker for polkadots. So much so I covered my wedding dress in ‘em. So I popped in and lo and behold I was presented with a dazzing array of  treasures from their Autumn/Winter collection. Check this silky slinkmeister out:

A slinky red polka dot shirt

And isn’t this adorable?

Puppy perfect with a peter pan collar

And this?
Pretty polka dot dress

I think what’s attracting me to these pieces are their simplicity, and my imagination is running away with me on how I could recreate them at home with (a lot) of practice. I did buy the green polka dot and I’ve had a good look inside at the seams and facing. I think it’s very doable indeed, and could even be extended into a pretty dress like the one above.

It’s amazing – once you have a successful dressmaking project under your belt – you start to see the potential in everything! Have you felt that rush of excitement and adrenaline after finishing a piece that you love?

Tutorial #3: A superior posterior pad

It’s been a difficult week to get much sewing done here in London. I’ll not go into the details, I think the excellent blogs already out there from Tilly and Karen, plus the news coverage pretty much sums it up. I haven’t a) quite been able to pull myself away from BBC News and b) felt much like it. But last night and tonight, things have been quieter. So I thought I’d put together my tutorial for making a bespoke seat pad with piping.

A superior posterior pad

A while ago I wrote a blog about finding some old and unloved chairs on the street. I confess – I am a total skip-dipper. I can’t pass one without having a nosey. I sanded down and painted the chairs about a month ago and what better way to set off their fresh new look than a bonny new seat pad! I asked you guys what fabric I should plump for and you picked the rather fabulous vintage (60s? 70s?) pink curtain that I picked up in Bethnal Green at a Vintage Fair last year.

Which fabric goes best?

Okay – here’s what you’ll need.


Foam pad – enough to cover the area you want

Fabric – I use hard wearing cotton or linen, old curtains, etc. How much you need depends on your seat pad width and length, whether you’re using the same fabric to cover your piping, whether you want seat ties etc… but half a metre or so should cover it. You’ll need:

1. Three pieces sized roughly the same as your foam pad (the trimmed size – see below)

2. Two matching strips roughly 1.5″ x 16″ for your seat ties and one strip roughly 1.25″ x the circumference of your seat pad for your piping (or you can use a contrasting piping for more of a funky look).

Notions: Matching thread and enough piping to go round your seat pad – a metre should cover it.

Nice to have:

Electric carving knife. Yep – that’s right! Seriously – cutting foam is no joke. Scissors  and stanley knives are tough-going and make the edges ragged. Get yourself one of these beauties and you’ll be the home furnishings equivalent of Edward Scissorhands. I got mine for less than £10 on Amazon and use them solely for this but bet if you ask your mum she’ll have one knocking about.  Alternatively you can get ready-made foam pads for seats but I find that one size rarely fits all.

Piping foot: I suppose this could theoretically be a ‘nice to have’  as you can use a zipper foot but I wouldn’t like to attempt piping without mine – it removes all pain and frustration and makes your world a happy, happy place.

Let’s get started

First thing is to get a sheet of newspaper, tracing paper or pattern paper and lay it on your chair. Mark out the general shape of your pad, trying to make it as symmetrical and even as possible . Cut out and lay the paper on top of your foam pad, trace an outline with a marker pen or chalk – and cut! So here’s the finished foam insert. Like so.

Finished foam insert

At this point take your piping and wrap it round the circumference. This measurement, plus a couple of inches will be how much piping you need, and the length of the 1.25″ fabric strip I mentioned above. If you’re short on fabric length then just sew a couple of strips together at the ends until you get the desired length. The joins really won’t stand out on the finished fabric, I promise.

Measuring piping

A word about seam allowances here. I don’t add extra seam allowance to the fabric pieces, because every time I have, they’ve ended up a bit loose and wrinkly. And what I really want is a tight, professional looking finish. So I cut the fabric without seam allowances, but sew with a seam allowance of about 3/8″, meaning the cushion cover is ever so slightly smaller than the foam. Then I just  stuff the foam in and sit on it until the foam flattens and it looks fabulous. But that’s just me.

So anyway, take your paper pattern and cut out three pieces from your fabric. Cut three because one will be your top and the other two will form an overlapping envelope opening on the bottom side. If you’re using a patterned fabric it’s nice to ensure all patterns face the same way but to be honest you can get away without worrying about this too, because it’s on the bottom anyway.

Take your two pieces that will form the envelope opening, and place them side by side. Piece one is on the left and piece two is on the right. Now trim about a quarter of the material away from the right hand side of piece one and do the same on the left hand side of piece two. Does that make sense? Here’s a pic.

Creating envelope fabric pieces

Now you’ll want to finish your three fabric pieces with a zig zag stitch about a 1/4″ in, all around the edges, to prevent fraying. If your material is heavily woven then I’ve heard pinking shears will do the same job. Don’t worry about the strips for piping and straps – they’ll be fine without it.

Again taking your two bottom pieces of fabric, press 1″ under  on those sides that you trimmed and sew a straight line about 0.75″ in from the edge to secure. This will give you a nice finish on your envelope opening. See?

Finished edges

Now let’s make the piping. Tuck your piping cord into the middle of the 1.25″ strip (right side on the outside). Using your piping foot on your sewing machine, stitch as close as you can to the piping itself. As I said above I use a piping foot for this (which tucks the cord underneath part of the foot) but you can use your zipper foot as well. Sew all the way along the cord. You should hopefully have a little border of material right the way along which is 3/8″ – the same seam allowance as we’ll be using on our seat pad. So that’s your piping done!

Sewing the piping

If you’d like to use chair ties (those little ties that secure your seat pad to the chair spindles) then let’s make them now. Take your two shorter strips and press them in half lengthways. Then on each side of your pressing line, press in half again lengthways. Basically you’re making bias binding.  Then sew a straight line of stitching down one edge to secure. You could do both edges and the ends if you like but life is short and time is money and noone will EVER look at this and judge you. Really. Here it is in pic format:

Making the seat pad ties

OK now we are ready to put the thing together! Lay your piece of fabric (that will be the top of the seat pad) right side up. Arrange your piping around the edges with the piping cord on the inside and raw sides together. Round the corners it’s worth making snips in the seam allowance of your piping every couple of centimetres or so – just makes curving it so much easier.You’ll find that you have an overlap of piping, right? Here’s what to do. To join your piping and make it all nice and neat, unpick some of the stitching (about half an inch or so) on one side of the piping and open up the fabric casing. Take the other length of piping and trim it so it joins your first bit of piping inside the opened fabric case. Then just tuck your opened fabric casing around the piping again and turn the end under so there are no raw edges. Voila.

Joining the piping

Now fold your little strips in two and lay them on top of the piping, equidistant from each side, making sure the open ends are facing inwards into the cushion.

Pinning ties in place

Now take your two ‘envelope opening’ pieces of fabric and lay one on top of the left hand side and one on the right hand side with the fabric facing the wrong side up. They should overlap by a couple of inches. Now pin all your pieces together, making sure you’re securing your ties at the back with your pins.

All pieces pinned together

Again, using your piping or zipper foot, sew all around the edges with your needle as close to the piping as you can possibly get, feeling your way along through the fabric.

Now turn it out – see?

Seat pad right side out

It’s all magically come together! Stuff your foam insert in. It will feel tight and seem like it’s never going to fit and you will curse me, but pummel it, punch it and squeeze it until it fits. Then check out your fine work by plopping your posterior on your superior seat pad and having a In just a few hours of use the foam will have worked its way into every corner and evened out, giving you a lovely smooth finish!

Finished seat pad

Finished seat pad ties
If you do decide to make this, then let me know how it goes and whether I’ve missed anything vitally important! I basically wrote the tutorial then followed my own instructions so I hope it makes sense. Happy sewing and sitting xxx

Finished project: A whale of a time blouse

Last week I purchased a charming vintage Simplicity pattern on eBay and I’ve been dying to try it out ever since. I was also looking forward to using my rippled whales in pink fabric that I bought from Fabric Tales about a month ago. I thought a blouse as sweet as this deserved a fun fabric, so it got one.

Simplicity pattern 3558

The pattern wasn’t a difficult one per se, but as a beginner in all things dressmaking it was a steep learning curve. I set in sleeves for the first time and learned how to do buttonholes! Can you believe I have had a sewing machine for at least seven years and haven’t ever used the buttonhole foot? What fun it was! I’m going to put buttons on everything now. Cushions will be transformed! Bags will be secure!

I did have some trouble figuring out the pattern instructions for the front  of the blouse. A narrow piece had been removed from the original pattern so I wasn’t sure if I needed to cut out the blouse front including  it or whether that was just for interfacing. In the end I left it as was and it seemed to work out ok. Here it is!

A whale of a time blouse

I think you can see from the pic that my peter pan collar ended up ever so slightly uneven, but it’s more pronounced here than  it is in reality, so I’m going to live with it. Also you can see that one side of the blouse is out of line with the other side in terms of the whale pattern. Again, I’ll live with it – I’m just so pleased to make something I like and would willingly wear! When it came to fitting, my new mini-me came in tremendously useful. So much better than sticking pins in one’s derriere by mistake. I had to take in the seam lines by a half inch through the arms and the sides.

I think this blouse will go beautifully with a pale blue denim I bought from Walthamstow market. It’s very ‘seventies mum’ and will be perfect for another new project – the Colette Patterns Beignet Skirt.

Keef came in for a snoop while we were taking pics so I let him join in.

Keef gets a pet

I’d definitely use this pattern again but I’ll have to remember to snip a half inch off everything. I’d love to add piping to the collar for an even more retro feel. The pattern also came with these gorgeous letter transfers (you can see them in use in View 2 on the pattern envelope). How sweet! I wonder if it’s still possible to use them? The instructions say to iron the transfer onto the fabric, and then simply embroider over them. So sweet…

Transfers that came with the pattern

In other news, I know I promised a tutorial aaaaages ago on how to make a seat pad and I promise I mean to do that this week. I’ve just been getting caught up in clothes. Dressmaking is so much more complicated and intensive – for me anyway – that it kind of drains you of energy to work on anything else! But rest assured – it’s coming soon.

Hope you’re all having lovely weekends. xxx

Uh-oh – am I ready for this?

I, Joanne of, sign up as a participant of Self-Stitched-Sept ’11. I endeavour to wear something crafted, sewn or upcycled each day for the duration of September 2011.

If you want to join in this amazing month-long event created by Zoe of So, Zo… What do you know? then join up here.

Onwards and upwards with a jersey dress

Exciting news! I got my mini me today, i.e. an adjustable dressmaking dummy. I’ve spent quite a bit of time this evening standing beside it, behind it, in front of it, coming upon it unexpectedly to try and catch it in motion etc. Also measuring bits of me and bits of it. I’m almost there although not quite sure how to adjust the bit between the waist and the hips – I’ll be googling that tomorrow.

My mini me

I’ve also decided to start on a new pattern with <drum roll please> a jersey knit. I know – am I mad? But it’s a beginner’s pattern from called ‘The uptown/downtown knit dress’  #1090. Chic, non? Check it out.

Uptown/downtown knit dress

I love that it’s ever so slightly eighties, slouchy but insouciantly chic. Awesome. Looking forward to wearing this (if it works out) and maybe pretending to be in The Breakfast Club. I think the corsage I made the other night might be a nice addition to it too.

Sizing was weird though. My measurements ranged from a 6 to a 10 on the pattern so I went for a happy medium and cut out an 8. Hoping with the knit being stretchy and all it won’t be too bad.

Pattern back

I’m really excited about this dress. Fingers crossed it works out for me. I’ll be starting to sew it together tomorrow evening. Hope to share something with you soon!

A corsage to bring the happy back

After an intensive week of sewing and seam ripping on my polka-dot cloned dress, I decided to take a break and concentrate on something a little simpler, a little quicker and a whole lotta fun.
Introducing… the abundant felt corsage of happiness!
The abundant felt corsage
This cute felt brooch caught my eye first on one of my favourite sewing blogs, No Big Dill so I tracked down the tutorial to, an American site dedicated to gifts and ideas for high days and holidays. This was for Mother’s Day but hell, I’ll wear it any day.
A sideways look
Isn’t it sweet? It was super easy to make – I used wooden pegs from the local 99p shop to keep the petals closed while the glue set. I really love this soft dark pink colour. I wonder what it would look like with contrasting shades and even more petals…I already had the felt and the fabric glue so this little baby cost just a pound or two to make.
I will go back to the polka-dot, but I’ve decided to draft my own peter pan collar and my own ¾ length sleeves instead of using what I drafted in the class. A larger collar will be easier to stitch in and I’m hoping I’ll learn a new skill in creating my own sleeves that can be used again and again. In other news, my sewing woes and frustrations with the project have compelled me to finally purchase a dress form. I just can’t fit clothes while wearing them – it’s absolutely impossible, and leads to rather uncomfortable pin-related injuries. Can’t wait to take delivery of my new mini-me! Question – does one name one’s dress form? Have you done it? ‘Fess up!