Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Well, it's been awfully quite round these parts for some time now and I finally have something to show for it. I've been working very hard recently on developing a knitting pattern line and yesterday saw the release of my very first commercial knitting pattern!

I'm not quite sure what's going on with my face in this picture but I think it shows the cardigan off nicely. Her name is Wanda and the knitually-inclined among you can purchase her as a Ravelry download here.

Expect a return to the Colette Sewing Challenge very soon!

Monday, 8 April 2013

A Knitted Interlude

OK, this isn't about sewing, but it is about stitching of a different kind, plus I'm super excited about it - I'm going to be teaching a beginner's knitting course in London, starting in a couple of weeks!

As much as I love sewing, knitting is the thing that seems to come most naturally to me - I definitely had an 'aha' clicking type moment when I learned to knit, whereas with sewing, each technique seems to be something new and unconnected. I've taught children how to knit before, which was brilliant, but this is the first time I'm going to be teaching adults and the first time I've been able to draw up a course plan.

The course lasts for 6 weeks and we'll be learning casting on, binding off, knit, purl, ribbing, knitting in the round, increasing, decreasing and finishing techniques. I've been busy finishing off the designs for the accompanying pattern booklet, which includes all the techniques from the course. At the moment, I'm in the middle of knitting up a late 1950s style garter stitch bolero that's turning out pretty nicely (so far!).

If anyone's interested in taking the class, it's on at the Red Lion pub in Leytonstone on Tuesdays 7-9pm, starting on the 23rd April. The whole course costs £50, including basic materials in the first session and a pattern booklet featuring 6 original knitting patterns. There's still a couple of places left, so email trixierocketdesigns@gmail.com to book a place.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Great British Sewing Bee

It's great. As someone who got really into the Great British Bake Off and regularly sews, I was bound to love it. And I do. Sewing is something that hasn't translated well to TV before (at least not in the UK) but this show does it perfectly.

The show follows the format of the Bake Off, with eight home sewers set three challenges a week: following a given pattern, adjusting a particular high street item, and making a garment for a model (each contestant gets to pick their own pattern on this one). The judges are WI sewing teacher May Martin and Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant, who so far seem to have a pretty similar dynamic to Mary and Paul from the Bake Off. I was disappointed at the lack of Mel and Sue - Claudia Winkleman just isn't the same - but I suppose you can't have everything. But, oh, the sewing room! All the contestants have their sewing stations, similar to the Bake Off, but they also have access to shelves of fabrics and rows of ribbon and zips and buttons and interfacing and oh my! Some of their challenges are only an hour long and, frankly, I could spend that much time just gawking at the trimmings!

We've only had one episode so far but the contestants seem great. My favourites are Tilly, whose blog I already enjoyed reading, steampunk enthusiast Mark and Lauren (though, to be fair, a pretty face and a Scottish accent can already turn my head, even without those mad sewing skillz). Like most reviewers have pointed out, the group of contestants is really representative of home-sewers as a whole, and the level of execution is high, especially within the tiny time-frames! What really impressed me about this show, though, was the way it managed to be accessible enough for a non-sewer while not getting bogged down in the details. In the same way that the Bake Off explored traditional recipes, this show gave a bit of background information on patterns, so that viewers who were entirely new to sewing knew what was what, while giving sewists a bit of history they might not have known.

One of the challenges this week involved inserting an invisible zip - something I'm about to do for the first time on a dress I'm making for a friend (yes, I'm doing some sewing, not just watching TV). I'm all fired up for zip insertion zipsertion now, just I should be able to post pictures soon!

Getting By

Maybe it's just me, but since I started teaching myself to sew three and a half years ago, I've noticed a certain amount of snobbery in some parts of the online sewing community. I'm sure we've all seen the odd sewist who claims to feel physically nauseous at the thought of sewing with anything other than natural fibres, or to not understand why anyone would ever buy tools that weren't top-of-the-range. I've read advice to beginning sewers that suggests setting aside a sewing room and, while I love prying looking at others' sewing spaces, as someone who learned to sew as a student and is now an impoverished intern, I've never even been able to have a sewing corner, let alone an entire room. Let's face it, ours is a gosh-darn expensive hobby. Even basic machines will set you back £100 and the amount you can spend on tools and paraphernalia can be mind-boggling before you've sewn a single stitch.

To some extent, I've always had to make do with whatever tools and space I could afford. Like I said, I learned to sew as a student and student accommodation typically does not have space for a cutting table and dressmaker's dummy.* Now, however, I've recently moved to London and am being put up by some incredibly wonderful people who - through no fault of their own - have never even heard of a tailor's ham, much less own one. Since I can't fit much of my stuff where I'm currently living, I've only been able to bring a bare minimum of sewing supplies. Here's a list of everything I have with me/was already in the house:

Sewing machine - very basic and infuriatingly unreliable**
Fabric shears
Embroidery scissors
12 pins (only 11 of which I can locate at any given time)
Seam allowance guide (this little magnetic thing that sits on the metal plate on your sewing machine - really helpful when your machine doesn't have notches to show you where e.g. 5/8" is)
4 hand sewing needles
A tiny pincushion
A seam unpicker
An iron (no ironing board)

Case in point

Sewing with just these things is tricky, but by no means impossible and, lots of the time, the restrictions lead me to be more creative. Without pattern weights, for instance, I've learned to use my sewing tools/my boyfriend's bookbinding stuff instead - it works just as well! I also wouldn't have found out that normal pencil drags less on the fabric and works just as well as fabric pencils, unless I'd found myself without access to things I used to take for granted. That's not to say everything can be worked around - pressing drives me mad, and sewing with my old machine takes ages because it keeps jamming, needs super-complicated threading and all the bobbins have to be wound by hand (I was so pleased to get rid of that thing). But, you know what? You can't tell when you look at the finished garment. Sure, it takes longer and it's more stress, but it's doable. I could even probably get rid of the embroidery scissors, seam allowance guide, pincushion and 3 of the hand-sewing needles if I had to.*

I've seen a lot of sewing guides that say never do this or always do that, when never or always doing this or that can be really expensive! I saw we start adding 'if you can afford it' to a lot of our sewing 'rules'.

*They never listened to my suggestions, dammit.
**Two years ago, I gave my old sewing machine to a good friend of mine when I traded up. It's only through the greatest stroke of luck and poor judgement that that good friend is now my boyfriend, meaning I can use my old sewing machine while he lets me stay with him.
*But please don't start a petition or anything, because I'd rather not.

P.S. One series that's great at recognising this problem is Wendy Mullins' 'Sew U' series of books. There are always three options for sewing supplies - 'getting by', 'recommended' and 'pro' - and the first book is full of loads of tips on how Mullin herself managed as a student.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

A Thoughtful Plan

Having resolved to treat my patterns and fabric properly from now on, I've been thinking a lot about other ways I've been sabotaging my sewing before I even turn on the machine. I'm realising some projects are doomed from the very start, simply because I tend to sew on a whim. I don't want to think about how many times I've thought 'I like this fabric, and this pattern's nice, so mixing the two can only be a great idea!', just to end up with a denim ballgown or something.* Even more of a problem than mismatching fabrics and patterns, though, is that I've had a tendency to sew garments that have nothing to do with that I wear on a day-to-day basis. This is actually something Sarai Mitnick talks about a lot in The Colette Sewing Handbook, which I haven't seen mentioned in many other sewing books. Knowing what you like and need, and sticking to it, is really important when you think about it. Thinking 'ooh, I don't have one of those!' or 'ooh, I love floral dresses!' does not necessarily a happy sewing adventure make. Thinking 'ooh, I love floral dresses AND I don't have enough', on the other hand, means you're off to a pretty good start.

In that spirit, I've been thinking a lot about what I like and what I need. I already have quite a defined style, but, since I love making lists and I was bored, I can now treat you all to a quantified guide to my tastes.

via modcloth

Colours: navy, black, grey, cream, leopard print, teal/turquoise, red, marine colours, jewel colours.

Silhouettes: 40s, 50s & 60s, clean lines, mostly fitted, emphasising either waist or legs.

via anthropologie

Fabrics: cotton, jersey, drapey silks, corduroy, denim, linen, lace and sheer fabrics.

Prints: block colours, polkadots, leopard print, stripes, plaid, floral, toile.

via bridalwave.tv

I like to play with mixing colours and shapes, don't put much thought into mixing textures and don't like mixing prints.

I definitely recommend making a list of several of your favourite colours/fabrics/prints to wear when going fabric shopping. What would previously send me into a whirlwind of indecision and temptation suddenly seems really easy now! Similarly, thinking about different silhouettes you like and feel good in really helps stop those regretful impulse buys whenever there's a pattern sale.

via collectif

Of course, I can't keep making fitted teal 50s style dresses (for reasons that seem unclear to me now). Since I'm young and innocent enough to only just be entering the thrilling world of office jobs, the gaps in my wardrobe are becoming increasingly obvious. Unfortunately, most office clothes seem boring as heck to sew,  and I hate the idea of putting all that time and effort into making a beautiful garment, only for its life to consist of nothing but work and rush hour. So, I sat down and made another list (yay), this time of a few items that would (a) look professional enough for work, yet (b) whimsical enough for play and (c) could be worn with plenty of things I already owned. Here's my list:

1. Navy meringue skirt with cream detailing (I'm currently thinking of sewing the facings to the outside with cream piping in the seams).
2. Black clover trousers in some medium-weight fabric that isn't suiting.
3. A pastille dress in a jewel coloured fabric.
4. A cream lace cardigan (OK, this one will be knit rather than sewn, but I see no reason why I can't blog about it anyway). I'll be using this pattern from Stitch Nation.

*OK, I've never actually made a denim ballgown, but now I really want to.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Sorbetto Top

So, pattern number one in my Colette Challenge is the Sorbetto top! This is a free pattern which you can download to print at home here.

The first challenge with this one was assembling the pattern - something I've always been far too lazy to do in the past. Technology not being my strong point, I somehow managed to print the pages so that they were 1/16 smaller than they should be. Rather than trying to figure out how to resize the images, I decided it would be much simpler to do some algebra and see if I could use any of the already printed pattern lines. Luckily, it turned out the 10 was exactly the size I needed so I was rescued from having to wrangle with any machines! Aside from all the maths, putting the pattern together was actually much simpler than I thought it would be, and not quite as time-consuming as I'd feared.

The pattern, after printing and assembling.

As I'm currently staying with a particularly charming gentleman friend of mine, I don't have all my sewing equipment with me, so actually making the top was something of an exercise in creative problem solving (thank goodness I gave him my old sewing machine when I traded up several years ago!). Without an ironing board, I had to do all my pressing on the floor, which actually worked surprisingly well when pressing my fabric. I used a green 100% cotton poplin that I got from Cloth House in Soho (which I highly recommend). The pattern calls for a yard and a half of fabric for all widths and garment sizes but I found that by folding the pattern in on itself so that the selvedges meet at the centre, I actually only used about half a metre. I'd been meaning to try out pattern weights but, since I didn't have any to hand, I used the two sewing books I have with me and they worked a treat! I used a standard drawing pencil to draw round the pattern pieces (a step I must admit to usually skipping) and transfer the markings - I find it drags the fabric much less than chalk and it often transfers onto the bottom half of the fabric so you only need to make each mark once, plus it's much easier to remove than you might think. 

When making up the pattern, I followed all the instructions laid out in the pattern, except that I also staystitched the armholes and finished the raw edges prior to sewing any seams. I also stitched a couple of rows of some lace I had to hand down the centre of the pleat inbetween staystitching the curves and sewing the darts. Since it's such a simple pattern, I just did a basted fitting and didn't need to make any adjustments. I do have to admit to somewhat rushing the bias binding facing, as my sister and charming gentleman friend turned up just as I was finishing off and I was characteristically impatient to have a completed garment to show them. It's the only part of the top I'm not happy with but I'm told it isn't noticable. Having noticed how easily everything else came together, though, I think I may have learnt my lesson. One thing that really struck me when making this top is how much easier the actual sewing part is when you prepare and cut your fabric properly. In the past, I've always been very eager to get straight to my sewing machine and I think it's been my downfall on numerous occasions, so with the next few garments I make, I'm really going to concentrate on all the pre-sewing bits of garment construction.

Please remember that I have no ironing board or decent camera with me. Once I'm reunited with my belongings, I'll hopefully be able to post some less crumpled pictures. The skirt in this photo is from Silence & Noise, the bracelets are Primark's finest and the whimsical butterfly was a gift from the wonderful Hannah, who was also my kind photographer.

Overall, I'm actually really pleased with how the top turned out. I was curious because I'd seen some fantastic versions online, but I wasn't sure if the shape would make me look lumpy. As it is, I think it's surprisingly flattering, plus it's super versatile. 

I'd love to hear stories of your own Sorbetto Adventures!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Colette Sewing Challenge

I am an extremely lazy sewer. I'm not known for my patience, so I constantly take shortcuts to get to the finished article. Of course, this means that whenever something is finished, it has dodgy seams, lumpy hems and, half the time, makes me look like some sort of fruit and/or vegetable. What I need is a self-imposed arbitrary challenge of some kind!

Since I have just received a copy of the Colette Sewing Handbook for my birthday, and am starting to really make time for sewing again in a way I haven't for a couple of years now, I'm going to do things properly. I'm going to force some good habits on myself, while making every single Colette pattern. Properly.

The rules:

1. I will sew every single Colette pattern at least once. I've chosen Colette because they're awesome, because their shapes suit me and because there's a decent number of patterns for this sort of thing.
2. I will follow every single step in the Colette instructions without using shortcuts.
3. I will fit every pattern. Whether that's with a pin fitting, a basting fit or a muslin (or several), depends on how complicated the garment is.
4. I don't have a deadline, because the point of this is to do things well, not to do them quickly.
5. I can still make other things, and I will be allowed to take shortcuts and experiment with anything that's not a Colette pattern, because sometimes you just feel like playing about with fabric without having a specific garment you need. 

I, the undersigned, agree to follow the above rules, and to try to document my progress so the world can gaze at my toil.

Trixie Rocket.

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Colette Patterns, I just think they're brilliant.