Monday, 23 September 2013

Not going shopping

For a while now I've been thinking about buying new clothes, but something seems to stop me. I think in Bristol, I combined shopping at independent shops with the odd bit of high street shopping and quite a lot of clothes swaps, so there was always something new (to me at least) going around without having to endure a big trip to the mall. Here, however, it's pretty much mall or nothing. And blimey, what a mall. It's huge! However, huge isn't the same as great, and I find myself panic buying cheap and cheerful / shoddy clothes in big stores like Old Navy and H&M.

I don't think I'm the only person who has been questioning using these shops, especially since the terrible accident in Bangladesh earlier in the year. It's prompted me to consider my relationship with clothing and fashion and shopping and making, which leads to some quite uncomfortable thinking. For example, do I really need a new this or that, when I already have one / some? Should I wear things until they are literally falling apart? Can I justify buying new things if I give old things away?

Part of this thinking is environmental: there's an impact to each purchase on natural resources, on energy usage, on transportation. There's waste generated in making the garment, packaging it, replacing previous items which aren't always recycled responsibly.

Another part is social. Most clothing, especially cheap high street fashion, is made by people in appalling conditions with very low pay in the developing world. Whilst the accident in Bangladesh highlighted it, it's hardly new news and is something many of us have been aware of for a long time.

Related to this is a growing distaste at the big business nature of shopping. Even shops which purport to be smaller, or to emulate local independent retailers are likely to be owned by huge multi nationals. Profit does not go to shop staff, clothing manufacturers, even clothing designers, who are likely as not to be employed to copy high end design rather than to come up with original designs of their own.

There's also a gendered dimension to it. Buying new clothes could be seen as conforming to a patriarchal stereotype of what women should look like, and that I should concern myself with my appearance rather than world affairs (heaven forbid I can do both). Furthermore, the majority of garment workers are women in the developing world, whereas the profit goes to men in the developed world, perpetuating both a gender and geographical divide. 

So, in short, I haven't shopped in a while. There are other options: firstly, obviously, make your own; secondly, buy from small businesses, eco lines and the internet; and, thirdly shop vintage, whether, again from the internet, from thrift or from consignment sales. But even these options don't come without consideration. For example, if I make my own clothes, I have to buy the fabric from somewhere, but the fabric stores near me are themselves big businesses. So is it better to buy fabric from Walmart or a dress from Anthro (which might present an independent aesthetic, but is clearly a big business)? Are conditions in fabric factories better than those in garment factories? By buying fabric and making my own clothes, am I taking job opportunities away from the developing world? Are clothing manufacturers more efficient (undoubted) at making clothes, and therefore am I making more of an environmental nuisance of myself by stopping them? If I contribute to a secondhand market for mass manufactured clothes, am I also stimulating the primary market for them? If I opt out and make all my own clothes, will anyone ever invite me to anything smart again? If I buy clothes from thrift stores or yard sales, am I reducing the pool of clothing available to people on lower budgets?

Obviously I could just not buy anything, although eventually I might need to, that wouldn't happen for a year or two. I could go to the logical extreme and grow cotton or keep sheep to make my own fabric to make my own clothes. But I'm not prepared to (and the landlord might have something to say about it). Or I could just be a bit more mindful. Try to shop vintage, or from environmentally friendly companies, or clothes made in guaranteed conditions. Make more of my own things. Borrow from friends. Swap. So there it is. I'm not pledging anything. I'm not giving up shopping. But for now, I will try not to buy 'fast' fashion.

I'll let you know how I get on.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


I know I'm a bit late on this old band wagon, but what with have boys, it's a bit hard to keep up with girl fashions. Still, you'd have to live in a hole not to know about the Geranium. I've also been a bit of stinge with not buying patterns I only thought I would use a couple of times, but then I remembered these ladies write their lovely blogs for free, and that if I bought their patterns, I'd be supporting them as well as getting something nice. So I paid up, got the fabric and set off.

See what I made:


Two little dresses and a shirt (not a geranium - it's actually from the Sewing for Boys book, which I've had for a while and largely ignored)

 So, little shirt, meant for an 18m old, modelled on my 3 year old. I think there's going to be room for growth. I really liked this pattern, which came together quickly and looked very professional when I'd done. In my imagination, I'll be making more of these. In reality we'll see.


Oh look, there it is again. I particularly like that it looks like a proper shirt with a granddad collar, but doesn't have buttons or anything. Makes it super speedy!

So then I made two dresses with the same range of fabric, which was fun. Although I would say, it's worth consulting the pattern to see how much you need before you blithely say to your fabric toting pal, 'oh, I'll just have a yard of each'. Cos 7 year old girls are tall, and take a lot of fabric. Anyhow, I think it looks nice with the contrasting bits. Just as well!

I lined the bodices with the same fabric as the trim, and put a bit of piping in to tie them together.
I also made the gathered skirt for the younger girl, and the pleated one for the older one. I like how they coordinate but aren't too matchy. And they all have pockets. I swear, I'm never sewing anything without pockets again.
Another learning point: don't try to size up patterns. I enlarged the bodice slightly, but then forgot about the skirt, so the pleats didn't line up too well. And then the next week, Rae released a bigger size anyway. So I've bought that too.
It was a lovely pattern to follow, and I'm happy with the dresses and shirt. The instructions were way better than the ones you get in the paper patterns, so it was easy to follow. I just need to be more attentive!


Monday, 17 June 2013

Stuff I've been making...

... and just not got around to blogging about. Life, you know, gets in the way.

A dress for a friend's daughter (upcycled from a maternity tent)

A dress for my friend's other daughter. Twins. Phew, tired just thinking about it.

A Wilbur Wright costume for my first born

It's a repurposed men's shirt and some old corduroy.

Sadly the hat's a bit small, but the cravat has been incorporated into everyday wear.

2 little dresses from the same fabric as the little trousers

And a Black Forest Gateau. All that sewing made me hungry.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Little trousers

With so many little boys in the house, you'd think there would be lots of little trousers wouldn't you. Well, you'd think wrong. Somewhere along the way, we've lost all the 6-12 month clothes, which is a shame, but not the end of the world (in so many ways). The other boys are 6 months out on the new one, so that they were new born in the summer, and then snug in dungarees come the winter. The new fellow, however, needs to dress for a steaming hot, as yet to materialise, Virginia summer.

I can run these little trousers up in minutes - almost less time than it would take to go upstairs and find a clean pair. They're just simple, two pieces (left and right, more on that below), drawn round another pair that fit, with soft elastic at the waist. We use washable nappies, so a lot of commercial trousers are too narrow (I'm looking at you especially, Gap), so I make them with extra big bottoms and lots of give.
I had asked my husband for a bundle of prints with bugs on for my birthday, thinking of making underwear for me, and lining a handbag. Instead I got elephants. I'm hoping he didn't know I intended to make underwear with them. Still, it's a lovely fabric and they make cute boy pants.
This pair is from a sheet from Goodwill. $1. I think it will make 4 pairs - one for us, one has already gone in the post, and there's a bunch left too. It was a fitted sheet, so I saved the elastic for that smug thrifty feeling.
So the little man can coordinate with his lady friends, I edged this fun Edwardian bicycle print (just from JoAnns) in orange bias tape.
But then I got other ideas and ran into a whole load of trouble.
I have a lovely new friend who has a boy 6m older than my baby. She very kindly passes his nice, only worn by one child, washed and ironed (!) clothes onto us, so I thought I would make some clothes for her kids.
Rather than winging it by drawing round clothes and cobbling things together, I thought I would actually follow a pattern, and used one from the Lotta Jansdotter book Simple Sewing for Baby. I've sewn lots from this book, especially the little dresses, and really like it, but my goodness, the trouser pattern. Never again. When I read other people's blogs and they talk about 'badly drafted patterns', I've always wondered what they're talking about, and think 'how can they tell?'. Well, now I know.
Making pants in 2 pieces is easy. But, as I said above, they should be left and right, not front and back. You can't really tell from the photo, but my word are they a weird shape.
So I tried to redeem things by making a little shirt to go with them. But that turned out pretty badly too. Craft Fail. Still, she was very gracious about them.

Fortunately I also made her older daughter a little apron for baking. That, at least, was a success.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A quilt for Luther

I made this quilt for a baby in the UK.  I imagine it's a fairly basic quilt pattern, from Stitch Savvy (again), although I  made broadly read and broadly blue blocks and then interspersed them, which I think gave it a bit more consistency.
His mum did her PhD on cycling, so when I saw the fabric from Fabric Worm, it was the obvious choice.

I also used up some bits and bobs from the cupboard.

It's backed with orange flannel because orange is his mum's favourite colour. And because the pattern made up one foot squares, I decided to quilt random ish one foot squares, which look good ish, but were a pain to do. Live and learn. As I can clearly neither cut, sew or quilt in straight lines, I wonder if quilting is the craft for me. That said, Luther is only 6 weeks old, so isn't a very discerning critic yet. Perhaps he'll grow up thinking that's what they're meant to look like.

Quilting's a funny old craft isn't it. I'm constantly torn between the kind of random, thrifty, Gee's Bend kind of quilts, and the more modern, beautiful interpretations of American traditional quilts. You can certainly spend a whole lot of money on what used to be a real make do and mend activity.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Spring top sew-along

Normally these things come and go - spring top sewalongs, kids' clothing week, Celebrate the boy - and I have all the intentions and then don't do anything about it. But hey, it's the thought that counts. Right?

But, this year, I have actually managed to do a couple of spring tops for the sewalong. Well, I managed to make some tops, and there's a sewalong going on. But I think I was trawling the flickr feed and saw Colette patterns that looked pretty, had a look on their site and came up with the Sorbetto. Free. Lovely. Can totally be made with men's shirts ($1 a piece at a yard sale near you).

One of these days I will get round to paying actual money for a pattern, but for now, getting around to doing some sewing feels like an accomplishment.

 The first one is a lovely white shirt that I actually bought to make trousers for the baby, with a blue linen shirt I'd already made into a sun hat. But the cotton had a pattern in the weave which looked funny with the linen, so I kept it for me. It has wooden buttons, which were on the front, but now are on the back, and I kept the scoopy bit at the bottom hem, partly because I liked the shape, partly because I'm lazy. You know, so lazy I sew my own clothes.

I made the US14, as I'm still pretty chunky, but it's actually too big, so I need to stick some darts in the back. Other lessons learned: When the pattern says 'stay stitch', stay stitch. Because I didn't the neck line gapes a bit. I really must get the darts in before the weather warms up.

The second one is the same pattern, but with the facings on the outside (which is actually what the pattern suggests) and I sewed a line of bias tape on either side of the pleat so it looks like piping. This is a US12, which fits a lot better, but the bust darts are a bit high, so I might have a third go, although I'm out of shirts for now. Lessons learned with the Mark 2: Don't sew (or photograph) teeny tiny gingham. My eyes felt like I'd been staring at magic eye pictures (remember them?) all day by the time I'd finished.

I'm in the fortunate position of not really being on a tight budget, but even so, it feels pretty good to have made two tops for a couple of bucks, as well as to have repurposed two old shirts. The fabric is lovely, and I don't think I would have thought to make them without the design constraints imposed by repurposing as opposed to designing from scratch, something that just feels intimidating really.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Red skirt

This is another project from Stitch Savvy. I had hoped to be doing lots of sewing at the moment, as I feel very enthused by it, but curiously I don't seem to have a lot of time with 4 boys at home.
I liked the construction of this project, but managed to get a couple of the pieces back to front which then made things rather complicated. One of the pocket pieces also seemed to have been printed back to front, which didn't help, and there was no sizing guide in the book, so I just kind of winged it. Now the weather just needs to perk up so I can wear it.
The main fabric is a heavy cotton which I think was trimmed from the bottom of a friend's curtains. There's just about enough left to make some little boy trousers from too. The floral fabric inside the pleat was a gift from a friend. I feel like I ought to make something lovely and special from it, so inevitably it's just languishing in a cupboard. Once I'm back to a less extravagant size, I have notions of turning it into a shift dress.
One of the things I really like about recycling fabrics is the way in which your clothes are imbued with meaning even before you wear them, so that when I eventually come to wear this skirt, I'll remember the clothes swap I got the fabric from, and going out for lunch on my birthday 3 years ago and being given a lovely gift of flowery material and carrot juice.
Peek a boo pleat skirt

Peek a boo pleat skirt peeking

Sunday, 17 March 2013

What to do with the legs

So you've made a nice skirt. You still have 2 legs left. What to do with them? There's only so many patches you can make for your kids' trousers, and sewing new trousers out of old denim is just too tricky.

There's a very nice bean bag / foot rest type thing on the Guardian that you could make out of them, if you were so inclined. I think it would look good in a kids' bedroom. However, my boys sit on the floor. Or, more likely, run around.

However, what I made was a little clutch bag, from the lovely Clever Girl. Perhaps it was her that inspired me to blog more: it's her new year's resolution too. I see she's just made a travel tote bag too . I need one of those!

My clutch bag is made of legs (obviously) and some lovely silk, origin unremembered, that's been sitting around for years. I'm trying, for various reasons (related to the need for a travel tote) to use things up. Legs and 2 square foot of silk is a great start.

For my next trick, I'm going to work out straps and internal pockets. But for now, I have a pretty pouch, too small for an ipad (not that I own one) and too big for anything else.

*edited to add that I now use this to store our passports...

Nook covers

So, Celebrate the Boy came and went and I didn't do a whole lot of celebrating, other than, you know, keeping mine fed and clothed. I did, however, have a craft inspiration for a friend's boys' birthdays.

They are about to turn 9 and 7, are mad keen readers and both have nooks (like kindles I believe). Plus, their mum is a chemistry teacher.

In an idle moment, my older boys were squabbling over our periodic table mug, as you do. Seeing He (Helium) at the top made me think of one of their sons - Henry - and I wondered if there was an appropriate element for their other son, Howard. Turns out there is: Ho (Holmium). Atomic number 67.

The other source of inspiration came from a load of spare legs: having turned all the boys school trousers and jeans with worn knees into shorts for the summer, I had a lot left over. Some I saved for patches, but really, there's only so much patching to do...

So, denim, periodic table nook covers. I must say, I'm pretty pleased with the result.

I used the tutorial at Little Birdie Secrets and copied her lining, exchanging sophisticated black for more kid friendly green and blue. I deliberately kept the jeans stitching on the pieces I used for the back covers because I think it's a nice detail, and used printer transfer paper to print onto white cotton, which I sewed onto the fronts. The details of the elements are just done in Word (remembering to reverse the image to print out).

I really like the idea of using periodic table initials for personalising gifts, and imagine I'll be doing it again. I also just noticed that I can use US state abbreviations for all my family, so might move onto that next.

Something I really like about crafting is learning a new skill. So in this case, I put in zips in a different way to how I'd done them before, and learned how to line a pouch - hopefully both things I can use again.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Celebrate the boy is back...

... And what good timing it is!

I would say that I'd attempt to make something every day or post something every day as some sort of challenge. The internet seems to be full of challenges. But this week it's enough of a challenge to feed and dress my boys, let alone celebrate them.

But I was excited to see it back, and I hope it's a super fortnight for two of my favourite blogs: MADE and Made by Rae

And look, I can put their boys in and have a post with pictures without having to find the widget for the camera.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

One pair of jeans: Two projects

I know I've posted refashioned jeans into denim skirts before, so I won't bang on about this one, other than to say its substantially, er, wider, than ones I might have mentioned before. Inevitably I put on rather a lot of weight while pregnant, and whilst I'm not beating myself up about it, I do need something to wear in the interim whilst losing weight period. I don't know where the jeans came from in the first place, but they were in a bag of post-preggo clothing that hadn't seen light of day for a while. As jeans they didn't work too well (too long, too baggy, too high waisted) but the colour was good so they got the skirt treatment.

The bag is from Stitch Savvy , my new favourite book (other online book retailers are available).

It's the first thing I've made from it. There's more to come for sure, although for a small and allegedly 'beginner' item, it was curiously time consuming. I'm hoping that was as much to do with me not being used to the format as opposed to being broadly delusional about my own abilities.

And finally, a group shot of bag, skirt and photographer's assistant. 9 months in the making, and still a work in progress. Cute though!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Well I think I managed one post last year...

This year I'm going to do more. Really.

Things have changed somewhat round here. We now live in DC. Well, near DC. In the 'burbs. I'm a total soccer mom. Except the boys don't play soccer. But I drive everywhere. And I listen to country music radio in the car. It started off as an affectation, a bit of a joke, an alternative view on the election. It's turned into a way of life.

Oh, and I had another baby. More specifically, another boy. 2 weeks ago.

So this is my motivation: there are no independent shops near here, and we seemed to have put a whole load of boys clothes into storage. Also, I have no independent income. In short, there's going to be more making, more refashioning, more recycling. Partly so I can wear individual clothes and not have to go to the mall all the time. Partly so I can make lovely things for 2 little boys, knowing that one can wear and then hand down to the other (the big 2 are general handmade refuseniks). Partly because if I don't do something I'm likely to forget how to write.

And it's not like I haven't made anything in the last year or so, but I'm not going to go through trying to catch up, because that way madness lies. And I'm not going to get all het up on linking to this, that and the next thing, and having photos for everything. And endlessly commenting on other people's blogs - other than to say that I've been totally inspired by Mason Dixon Knitting's 15 minute lightening posts. I just don't have 4 hours to sit uploading a gazillion photos and doing tutorials and linking to every other sodding craft blog. I do have 15 minutes here and there though, so that's what you're getting.