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 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.