A Stevie Summer

It’s fair to say my lockdown sewing plans are very far from coming into fruition. Out of an ambitious list of 12 things, I’ve made…two. Still, it’s not all bad news – it looks like the pandemic will be carrying on for the foreseeable, which means plenty more time for Covid couture. Hurrah! Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Obviously, I’d quite like the pandemic to be over now please (if only so I can wear what I’ve made outside, where other people are. Rather than in my own home, where my cat is).

One thing our current situation has proven once and for all, however, is that available sewing time does not always correlate with sewing output. At the beginning of The Unprecedented Times, newly living that #WFHlife, I was excited to swap after-work commuting for evenings in the sewing room. What I actually swapped it for were evenings in front of some gentle comfort TV (think rom-coms, Emily in Paris and SATC. Basically, anything without the risk of even mild peril) with a glass of gin.

A lot has been said about the mental health benefits of crafting, and I don’t disagree. I’ve never been able to get into mindfulness, but sewing is certainly a form of it. It’s always amazed me that it’s possible to be focussing on pressing a hem or sewing a dart while simultaneously mentally processing whatever has gone on that week – or, indeed, not thinking about anything much at all apart from the task at hand.

But, real talk – sewing can also be stressful and tiring. When it goes wrong, you’ve wasted time, money and fabric. And when the world is changing in new, stressful ways by the minute, do I really want to devote energy to a hobby that could potentially add to my anxiety? As much as I love sewing, lately the answer isn’t often yes. I guess what I’m saying is: if your sew-jo has vanished quicker than your social life this year, you’re not alone.

What about those times when I do somehow rustle up the mental energy to get my sew on, though? Well, much like I’ve watched comfort telly to get me through this dystopian nightmare, I’ve found that comfort sewing is the way to go. I don’t just mean comfy garments, but simple, comfort-zone projects. I’ve always been a fan of a stress-free sew, and that’s the case now more than ever.

And what could be more stress-free than a Stevie? No fastenings, a patch pocket, cute cuffs, a tie fastening – it’s got all the details, and none of the drama. I’ve made two this year. It’s not the sewing output I’d hoped for, but I’m taking it as a win nonetheless. I mean, there’s a pandemic on, for crying out loud. We can save sewing the fancy ballgowns for 2021, right?

Pattern: Stevie by Tilly and the Buttons.

Pattern alterations: I shortened the length, as per usual. I also raised the back neckline for version two (in the leopard print), as it feels like the weight of bow pulls it down slightly when wearing my first Stevie.

Fabric: Spot double gauze from Higgs & Higgs, and leopard print cotton from Like Sew Amazing.

Sewing soundtrack: Thundercat. I have optimistically booked tickets to see him live next year. Come on, vaccine!

The joy of simplicity

What are your ‘staple’ garments? When you make your own clothes, it seems like it should be easier to fill your wardrobe with them, but there is such a thing as having too much choice – and, boy, does sewing give you that. I had so many fabric fails when I first started sewing, be it cheapy synthetics (sweaty to wear and not great for the environment), bright prints (just not me) or fabrics that didn’t work for my everyday life (satin. When was I going to wear that??).

Obviously, sewing garments you’ll wear for years, in organic, eco-friendly fabrics, is the ideal. But not everyone has a stash full of lovely organic cottons to pick from – and deciding which garments fall in the ‘staple’ category is subjective. For some, it’s amazing wax-print dresses (hello, SewVee). For others, it’s designer-inspired pieces that wouldn’t look out of place on the pages of Vogue (Ada Spragg and House of Pinheiro spring to mind). For me? Well, it’s polka dots, stripes, monochrome, leopard print…and black. Lots of black. I’m obviously a secret goth at heart. Not exciting for Instagram, but easy to choose from when I’m in a rush in the morning (i.e. every morning). I realise this is a whole lot of rambling for what’s essentially a post about the most simple top in the world. It’s The Boxy Top pattern from Simply Sewing issue 45, originally from Jen Hewett’s lovely book Print Pattern Sew – and it may not be the most impressive thing you’ll see on Instagram today, but I can tell it’s going to be something I’ll wear a lot.

I didn’t make any alterations apart from, as usual, shortening the length – and that was mostly so the pattern would actually fit on the fabric. I’ve had this cotton gingham in the stash for a while – I think it was from eBay – but its narrow width (and the fact I only bought 1.5m for some reason. Who the hell just buys 1.5m?) meant I had to be ‘creative’ with cutting out. So, if you were hoping to see some expert pattern-matching today, you’ve come to the wrong place (I did manage it at the shoulder seams though, so will obviously be showing those off at every opportunity. Feel free to ogle my shoulder seams, everyone. Don’t be shy).

Although seriously simple to make, with techniques I’ve done endless times, it did involve one new skill I haven’t tried before: flat sleeve insertion. Where has this type of sleeve been all my sewing life? So much easier and speedier than set-in ones. It was a real boost to make something that wasn’t challenging but still taught me something new, so that’s going to be my criteria for projects from now on. Heck, I might just apply that to the rest of my life as well. 

Pattern: The Boxy Top by Jen Hewett, from Simply Sewing issue 45.

Alterations: Shortened the length. That’s it!

Fabric: Cotton gingham from eBay (if I was going to buy more gingham – and I probably will – I’d get this one from Organic Textile Company).

Sewing soundtrack: Have just started learning Lindy Hop, so currently obsessed with all things swing. Also, Lizzo.


That’s a wrap

Pretty much the entire way through the process of making this top, I hated it…and then I finished it, tried it on and loved it. Why are sometimes even the simplest of projects such a rollercoaster?

I can’t even pinpoint (no pun intended) a reason for it – the pattern was quick and easy to make (The Wrap Dress from Simply Sewing issue 54), and the fabric is a lovely block print from Merchant & Mills. I think it’s just not a style or print I’d usually wear, so I wasn’t sure about it until it came together at the end.

The fabric choice was inspired by all the lovely rust, caramel and burnt orange colours that seem to have been everywhere on the high street recently in the likes of & Other Stories and similar. Brown isn’t a colour I often sew with or wear (if at all), yet I’m a bit obsessed with it at the moment.

Wrap tops and dresses are usually pretty inappropriate on me as I’m so short – rather than the cross-over and ties being at my waist, they often end up at my hip, and so the wrap gapes open completely and covers nothing. So rather than showing my bra to the world, I’ve just never bothered wearing them. Altering the pattern was fairly simple to do: I raised the the tie position so the ties would be at my waist (and the wrap would actually, you know, cover my body), and altered the side seam and grown-on sleeve accordingly so the gap to thread the tie through would be in the correct place. I also shortened the length and the ties quite a bit, and shortened the sleeves as well. Okay, so that sounds like quite a lot of alterations – but all of them were easy ones.

My one niggle is that the neckline gapes slightly on the right side at the back depending on where the wrap sits at the front, but I’m not going to obsess over that. I did take a chunk out of the back shoulder seams which helped a little, but I’ll need to work out a proper fix for the next one (yup, definitely making another).

This project has also made me realise that I need to start fitting for my scoliosis; I had a spinal fusion when I was 13, but my right shoulder blade juts out more than my left, and my right shoulder is lower than my left one.

It’s often not that noticable, but on certain garments it can cause fitting issues that I haven’t totally worked out how to tackle yet – e.g. that back neckline gape on one side, the centre-back seam/zip being pulled out of line on more fitted garments, etc. Amazingly, I’ve somehow never considered making adjustments for it.

I’m thinking I’ll need to add a wedge to the top right side of bodice pieces to account for the shoulder blade (as per this tutorial). I’ll also need to cut the back bodice pieces separately rather than as a mirror-image pair so I can adjust each side of the back bodice. Learning how to fit for my scoliosis is going to be my new aim for the rest of this year. I see lots of toiles in my sewing future!

That all doesn’t take away from how much I love this top, though. The soft cotton fabric is a dream to wear – it has a lovely crinkled texture when it washes, so I don’t have to iron it (and, let’s face it, I probably won’t).

Pattern: The Wrap Dress from Simply Sewing issue 54 (PDF available here).

Alterations: I raised the front wrap for more coverage and changed the tie position so that the ties are at my waist, and also altered the side seam gap and grown-on sleeve accordingly. I also shortened the length, tie length and sleeves.

Fabric: Block print cotton from Merchant & Mills (now only available in navy).

Sewing soundtrack: Anything from the Pose TV series. So. Many. 80s. Tunes.