Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life

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Simplicity 8424: A top to go with my leggings

It feels flippant to even mention that I’m missing my yoga class and I’d much rather be trying out my new kit in the yoga studio than posing next to a collection of bins in our unsightly garden. Our lives have changed so much in the last week or so and sometimes it is a struggle adjusting. I hope you all are doing well and staying healthy and my thoughts are with everyone in our virtual sewing community and especially with those whose work means they are on the front-line.

Back view of my Yoga kit

Back view of my Yoga kit

In the new normality, between work and home-schooling, I’ve been trying to carve out some sewing time. It’s been tricky! Anyway, I still had a small amount of fabric left over from making my leggings. I decided to try the tank top from the same pattern, Simplicity 8424, as the leggings to use my remaining fabric.

First of all, I wasn’t very sure about what size to make. I picked the medium, based on bust measurement, but I wasn’t convinced that it would be the right size. In fact, I was reasonably sure that it would be too big, but I decided to err on the side of caution.

Simplicity 8424 tank top

Simplicity 8424 tank top – front view

I made some changes to the top. First of all, I made the top a couple of inches longer. I’m not that happy with the idea of a cropped top, so this moved it away from that, so that it reaches my waistline. I used some knicker elastic for the top edges of the tank, stretching them a little (which isn’t mentioned in the pattern instructions), but I thought that this technique would produce a better fit.

The biggest modification concerned the shoulder and arm hole bindings. I have a great RTW tank top that I use all the time, and this has adjustable straps, just like a bra. Although, I don’t adjust the straps on my RTW top now, as I’ve set them up just as I like them, I know how hard it is to get straps the right length when you first try on a top. As the seam for the arm binding in this pattern are tucked under the arm, I knew it would be extremely hard to make any adjustment if I got this wrong. I therefore decided to create my own adjustable straps. I took apart an old bra and retrieved the findings. The steps I used are shown below. I didn’t take any photos as I went along (which I regret now), but I hope the instructions are useful all the same.

  1. Cut the binding 12 cm longer than the pattern piece (same width)
  2. With right sides together, pin the binding to the armhole edge. At the back of the top, extend the binding beyond the edge of the back piece by 4 cm
  3. Stitch the binding to the armhole edge.
  4. Trim the binding and the armhole edge. Press the armhole binding towards the front. Next, fold the armhole binding along its centre line lengthwise and then fold again, so that the folded edge lines up with the stitch line on the armhole. Pin in place and tack.
  5. Next, carefully stitch, with a long stitch, 2 mm from the fold edge to hold the binding in place and beyond the armhole, along the length of the shoulder straps.
  6. Thread the shoulder strap through the finding. First, thread through the upper then the lower hole and slide the finding along the length of the strap, until about 15cms is beyond the end of it.
  7. Next, on the back of the top, thread the overhanging binding through the ring and pin, then stitch in place.
  8. Next, thread the end of the shoulder strap, through the ring, now attached to the back of the top.
  9. Finally, thread the end of the shoulder strap through the upper then the lower hole of the finding. (You may have to loosen up the part of the strap you pulled through previously in order to pull the strap end over the middle bar). Stitch the end of the shoulder strap in place.
Simplicity 8424 tank top

Simplicity 8424 tank top – is the front too roomy?

I tried the top on, and decided it needed to be a bit tighter, so I nibbled away at the side seams progressively, to get a better fit. On reflection, the smaller size would have probably been a better fit. Looking at these photos, I still think it is too big at the front. There are lots of wrinkles, which is partly to do with the side gathers in the design, but even so it does look too roomy. Obviously next time I’ll go down a size.

Simplicity 8424 from the side

Simplicity 8424 from the side

All in all, it’s not a total success as a top, but I’m sure it will get worn for yoga. It isn’t a replacement for my old RTW top either, mostly because with the cross-over design it isn’t a very supportive top. I’m wearing the old faithful top underneath in these photos which works quite well.


Six awkward things about knitting (for someone who sews)

I’ve sewn since I was a kid. I’m not entirely sure exactly when I first learned to sew, in the same way that I can’t remember I time when I couldn’t read. But I started to knit only a few years ago. I came to realise that I wanted to make all my clothes; it was a natural progression in creating my me-made wardrobe.

But knitting is not sewing and sewing is not knitting. They are different skills, of course, but it is more than that – the language of knitting is different, the tools are different, and even the online communities are different.

I suppose it is stupid to say, but sometimes I just wish knitting was more like sewing. That’s the equivalent of saying I wish the French language was more like the English language. It might make it easier to understand, but much of the charm of French would be lost.

1) Knitting is slow

You would think that sewing my own wardrobe would make me more patient. It isn’t as if I can go shopping and in an hour have a new outfit. It takes days, even weeks to accomplish this. But with knitting it takes so much longer. A sweater can even take a year. That needs a lot of patience! It’s possible that with time I could knit faster, but I suspect I need to embrace the long wait for a finished garment.

A very long scarf

2) Knitting requires fitting too

Sometimes you want an oversized jumper, sometimes you want something fitted, but there is little guidance (beyond getting the gauge right) in knitting patterns. Yes, like fitting knit fabrics, fit isn’t so crucial, but it’s still something that needs to be considered. Perhaps, because I am more into sewing, fit is something that I obsess over. Should I stop obsessing? Embrace patterns knitted in the round? Or should I keep to those “worked flat” patterns? Patterns worked flat at least give you an idea that you are on the right track. I can measure the first piece (the back) against myself, before I carry on with the front and sleeves.

Untangling Knots – Crumb Knitting Pattern (example of close fitting knitwear)

3) Knitting patterns may not help with choosing a yarn

As a beginner I find it really difficult to gauge what to buy for a project. There are loads of great patterns out there, but do I really want to buy the exact wool that the person used for the pattern? Why can’t a knitting pattern just give general guidance. Here’s typical guidance from a sewing pattern envelope:

“Cotton and cotton blends, gingham, laundered cottons, chambray, poplin, shantung, taffeta, linen and linen blends, embroidered fabrics. Allow extra fabric for matching plaids and stripes.”

It’s general, but there is still plenty of guidance.

Meanwhile from a knitting pattern:

“18 (19) (20) balls Robin bri-nylon, tricel-nylon, vogue, crepe or specklespun double-knitting”

Admittedly this guidance is from a vintage knitting pattern (1970s), but even with patterns a few years old the yarn no longer exists. Although it mentions double-knitting, which helps, but how on earth do I know how much 18 balls of yarn is, when there is no weight mentioned? What useless information!

I’ve often seen that people buy kits, pattern and yarn combined. That seems like an ideal way to start. But it seems expensive. My first sweater was partially made with wool from a charity shop, but I admit that it felt risky because I needed to find a yarn that coordinated with it to complete my make.

Why can’t knitting patterns just advise on the yarn used, what properties should it have? It’s fine to also show the exact yarn a sample was made with. And for goodness sake show the length of yarn used so it is possible to calculate how much wool to buy? (Ravelry can sometimes help here_ After all, should be the reasonably accurate if you use the same gauge? Of course, I’m sure much of this problem is exarcerbated by my beginner status, but who wants to buy expensive wool and probably too much wool for a project that makes them nervous?

4) Knitting is full of mysteries that I am yet to fully understand

English vs Continental knitting, knitted flat vs knitted in-the-round, cables, intarsia and lace. Knitting is as big a discipline as sewing, and from my vantage point it’s difficult to work out what I want to try. I want to knit adult garments, but all the beginner’s projects tend to focus on accessories. I could make a lovely scarf, but how many of those do I actually need?

Sure, some of the techniques are about aesthetics or where you wish to direct your energies. I couldn’t see myself making baby clothes, as all of the children in my family are too old. It’s hard picking up a new skill from scratch, I can’t stop comparing my inferior knowledge of knitting with my much vaster expertise at sewing.

Viking Knits – Adventurous knitting for me to try?

5) Knitting needs an online community too

One of the things that is so great about the sewing community is how much they share online.  The number one reason is for inspiration. I love a good Instagram scroll for throwing up a queue-jumping make. And then, before I buy a pattern I do online research to find out what other sewists think about it, how easy it was to make, any interesting hacks.

On not such a positive note, good research can help me avoid a real dog, the patterns where a seam doesn’t line up, there aren’t any notches or the instructions are incomprehensible.

Of course, for knitting there is Ravelry, which is invaluable. However, correct me if I’ve missed something here, but I haven’t found the same number and quality of knitting blogs and resources online. My first sweater ended up as a marathon mostly because there were mistakes in the pattern. Could I have avoided this if there had been more information out there? Only one other person mentioned the problem on Ravelry.

Another thing I find invaluable is viewing a Youtube video for help with a tricky technique. Sadly, there aren’t so many resources for knitters. I found only a couple of videos that helped with my v-neck neckline in English.

6) Knitting is relaxing????

Is it? Truly? I haven’t actually noticed! As Master Steely has frequently told me, it seems more “strong language and adult themes” when I pick up a pair of knitting needles! How do people manage to watch television whilst knitting? I need silence and concentration! With practice will I find knitting relaxing or am I destined to knit only in anger?


Closet Case Files Pouf

There comes a time in every stitcher’s life, when there are just too many scraps. I’m not someone who finds throwing things out easy, especially clothes and fabrics. Hey, I still have clothes I wore to sixth form still in my drawers (and I still wear them). But somewhere along the line I’ve ended up with carrier bags full of scraps; too small to make anything with, but too large to just discard. Enter the Clost Case Files Pouf.

I’ve seen many versions of this online. It’s a great free pattern, that lots of people have made. Reading some of the blog posts, I took note of those who said that the pouf ended up quite heavy and a couple of handles are useful for dragging it across the floor. So, mine has handles too.

My version is mostly made of denim and corduroy, so using all the remnants from jeans- and trouser-making essentially. It also used some scraps that remained from the cushions I made for the sofa, so it looks like it fits in with the living room.

Closet Case Files Pouf

Closet Case Files Pouf

In the spirit of using scraps I even made my own piping with denim scraps that I made into bias-binding. I wouldn’t recommend doing this, unless you have a high tolerance for boring tasks. Making your own bias-binding then making two metres of piping has to be just one of the most boring sewing tasks I have ever done. I much prefer hand-sewing any day. I noticed some people had only, applied piping to the top of the pouf. I was certainly a glutton for punishment because I did the top and the bottom!

I made the base of the pouf out of slipper-sole fabric. You know the fabric with the little rubbery dots on it? Master Steely will be using it as a “gaming” cushion. Therefore, I thought this would be good to make sure it didn’t slide too much on our wooden floor.  I also added a little tag to cover the zip-pull, so that the metal of the zip won’t scrape on the floor.

Bottom of the pouf made of slipper sole fabric

Bottom of the pouf made of slipper sole fabric

I finished this at the weekend, but I’m struggling to fill it with enough scraps. Obviously, there are plenty of scraps, but I need to cut them up a bit smaller, and I’m doing a bit at a time (so my hands don’t get tired).

Anyway, just in case you were thinking of making one yourself, here are a few examples for reference of the different modifications:

Additional handles:

Ruthie Sews


Handmade Shelby

Internal scrap bag:

Goheen Designs

Without piping or piping used only on the top of the pouf:

Belle citadel

The Demented Fairy



Seventies Fashion: The Mafia Only Kills in Summer TV series Episodes 1 &2

For the last couple of years I’ve been running a Sew The Seventies competition. I chose not to do that this year, but I’m still interested in all those seventies fashions. If you are new to this blog and are interested, there are a whole series of posts on the seventies – Year by year accounts of the history for the UK and Italy, and some reviews of TV series including Trust, The Little Drummer Girl and the Italian series, Maltese, which is still showing on 4OD .

I found another Italian series on Channel 4. Again, set in Sicily. It’s called “The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” and it’s still on 4OD, and I thoroughly recommend giving it a look. Here’s is my review of the first two episodes, along with a glimpse of the fashions and available sewing patterns that could recreate the look.

The series could be classed as a dark comedy. It is certainly a parody of Italian family life. The drama in set in 1979, in the “Years of Lead”. It follows the Giammarresi family. The narrator is Salvatore, a ten-year-old schoolboy who recounts the dramatic events that make his family realise that they have to leave Sicily for good.

They are, all in all, a fairly typical family. Older sister, Angela, spends her time trying to find some privacy in order to make phone calls to her friends and her boyfriend, often taking the phone into the bathroom. Their mother, Pia, is a primary school teacher, who has yet to secure a permanent position and their father works at the local registry office. Money is tight and consequently they live in a cramped, run-down apartment block in Palermo, where the water supply is intermittent. Salvatore ironically calls his family”calm”, they are anything but! This all adds to the sense of fun in the series, despite the drama’s tough themes.

Episode 1 – The Mafia Doesn’t Exist

The opening episode sees new girl, Alice, join Salvatore’s class at school and he falls in love. But his attempts to befriend Alice seem to be thwarted at every turn. Meanwhile his mother, Pia has secured a temporary, but hopefully lengthy position at a school over an hour away. With the long commute she tries to enlist Angela’s help with housework, but she isn’t very keen to lend a hand. She believes women should be freed from housework! Angela’s head is filled with thoughts of Rosario, who woos her by quoting Karl Marx and talking of female emancipation. His father, Lorenzo witnesses a brutal crime and toys with coming forward as a witness. He doesn’t and struggles with his conscience.

Salvatore in class. Primary school children used to wear these robes to school.


Angela Teal Jumper

Angela wears a polo neck jumper. Odd to me that someone in Sicily would need to wear something so warm?


Pia’s Argyle sweater. Love the idea of an Argyle sweater. Can’t say you see many around these days.


Clockwise from top-left: Polo neck sweater on set, Vogue Argyle knitting pattern,  vintage sewing pattern, Simplicity 5196 Top with roll collar and long set-in sleeves 1972 and True Bias Nikko top.

Episode 2 Guarantees and Other Crap

This episode starts with the Salvatore discovering the salacious “Pigs with Wings” book hidden by Angela in their shared bedroom. Lorenzo worries about Angela growing up and Pia feels that Salvatore and Angela both need their own rooms.  Lorenzo hears of a new housing development through a colleague and, despite his reservations, thinks it might solve the family’s problems.

Meanwhile Angela has a new class mate too, Torino (because he originally comes from Turin – Torino in Italian). It’s obviously from the start that Torino is “a pitiful case, forever in love” with Angela, but she isn’t interested in him at all.

Angela is on baby-sitting duty again, but decides to sneak off with Rosario. Salvatore, left to his own devices makes an ill-fated bus ride to see the new apartment and discovers that things are very different from how they appear on the brochure.

Angela's coat

Angela’s woolen coat has a contrasting checked lining / facing?


Clockwise from top-left: Angela’s woolen coat on set, Papercut Patterns Waver jacket, Grainline Studio Cascade Duffle Coat and vintage sewing pattern, vintage Style sewing pattern.

We are introduced to another character too, Patrizia, Uncle Massimo’s new girlfriend, who gets invited to dinner.

Patrizia's blouse

Patrizia wears a cream blouse with shirred sleeves and lace trim


A longer view of Patrizia’s outfit – I think the cream blouse looks great with the suede skirt.


Clockwise from top-left: Patrizia’s cream-coloured blouse on set, McCalls M7978, Burda Shirred Blouse 09/2017 #104A and vintage sewing pattern, Simplicity 9313, Tops with shirred cuffs, 1971.


Simplicity 8424: Fun leggings for yoga

I have been wearing my Ruri sweatpants for yoga all winter, but I realise that they are going to be way too hot to wear in the summer. I took a look at my existing yoga leggings; there were sagging knees, wafer-thin backside fabric and holes in the in-seam areas. They were bought in the late eighties or early nineties, so they have lasted an extraordinary length of time, but it was now time to say goodbye to them.

I bought Simplicity 8424 in a sale. It seemed useful pattern, containing, not only a leggings pattern, but a wrap top, vest top and a long-sleeved pullover top too, a complete fitness wardrobe. I liked all the top designs. There were also three variations for the leggings. View A has a tie at the waist, view B has criss-cross leg ties and view C is just a pair of plain leggings. I probably won’t make all these variations; there’s too much potential for dangling fabric for my liking in views A and B. I stopped wearing hooded tops to yoga a while back, as the hood flapped away when I was doing down-face dog…so annoying. Obviously I chose the plain leggings.

SImplicity 8424

SImplicity 8424

The fabric was bought a while ago from Stoff and Stil. It seems to feature surfing-style badges and logos. It doesn’t seem to be on the website anymore, but they still have a fantastic range of printed jerseys. It was a cotton-elastane blend.

SImplicity 8424 leggings

I selected size small (S). I cut the pattern out exactly as per the pattern, although I was slightly skeptical about how that would fit around the waist. The most challenging thing about cutting out was making sure that I placed the pieces so that the writing is the right way up on the finished leggings. I sewed most of it on the overlocker.

Nice fitting leggings

The instructions called for the use of 1cm clear elastic to be sewn to the inside of the upper edge of the waistband. I tried this and found that the clear elastic I had just simply didn’t have enough stretch (I couldn’t get the elastic over by backside when I tried this before inserting it into the waistband!) I found some swimwear elastic, which has greater stretch and used that instead. I didn’t use the elastic guide from the pattern either, I just went with what I knew would fit my waist (somewhat more than the measurement for the small (S) size). I suppose I could have sized up to a different size, but the S was perfect in all the other dimensions. I did shorten the front rise, otherwise the leggings would have reached my arm pits at the front, but this is more a reflection on my body shape, I think it would be mid-rise, as the pattern, describes on most people.

Simplicity 8424 - Action shot!

Action shot!

I was so pleased that I managed to make something within a week, from cutting out to hemming the bottom of the legs. That’s got to be a record! I still have some more of the fabric. I think I could manage a vest top from the same pattern; it only requires 0.7 metres.

I haven’t worn the leggings to yoga yet. I’ll have to wait until the end of the week, but I’m pleased with them so far, particularly the fit.

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Carbon Footprint of My Hobby

During a spell of web surfing I got sucked into reading an article on low carbon lifestyles. In particular, I found it interesting how we could remodel our lives to decarbonise. And yet, who wants to feel that that our lives are being impoverished? How can we use our creativity to “manage without” and yet still feel enriched?

Naturally, I turned to thinking about my hobbies, and more generally, the electricity-consuming hobbies in our household and I thought I’d see if I could work out an estimate for their carbon footprint.

My first step was to work out how to calculate the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) based on the energy consumed by the hobby over the period of an hour.

I used this website for the current carbon intensity in the UK. On the day that I did my calculations this worked out as 161g CO2 / kWh.

I started out with an easy hobby – Master Steely’s gaming. This only uses one appliance (his PS4 consule). According to this website, which shows how much electricity particular domestic appliances use, it shows that an hour of gaming on the PS4 uses 98.2 Watts per hour. This will therefore work out as

0.0982 x 161 = 15.81 g CO2 in an hour

Or, more accurately 47.43 g CO2 in a day (assuming 3 hours use, which would be an average over a week, with more use over the weekend than on a weekday).

I then looked at Mr Steely’s guitar playing. Sometimes he uses the amplifier and sometimes not, so I estimated that he would play it amplified for half his practice time.

The amplifier uses a 3 amp fuse, so that would consume at the absolute most 690 watts (230V x 3A = 690 W) before the fuse blowing would be an issue. Of course, from a safety point of view the amp wouldn’t draw maximum power and 40% power is probably adequate for practice.

0.69 x 0.4 x 161 = 44.5 g CO2 / hour or 22.3g CO2 in his hour of practice time assuming only half of it is amplified.

Next up, how about sewing? I decided that an hour’s worth of sewing activity would involve both using the sewing machine, the iron and some time where no electricity is being used devoted to pinning, hand-sewing or reading instructions.

An iron uses 1800 watts per hour, according to the website, but I reckoned that of my sewing time I would use it for perhaps 10 minutes in that hour.

(1.8 x 161) / 6 = 48.3 g CO2 for 10 minutes.

Most home sewing machines are in the 100 watt range. Again, I would imagine that I would use only 10 minutes of my hour, actually using the machine actively.

(0.1 x 161) / 6 = 2.7 g CO2 for 10 minutes.

So this makes a total of 48.3 + 2.7 = 51.0 g CO2 in an hour, assuming the rest of the hour is spent without consuming electricity.

I don’t spend much time knitting, but knitting by hand doesn’t require any electricity consumption at all, of course.

Summary and conclusion

I feel like I’m doing some science here today!

Hobby Estimated carbon footprint (per hour)
Gaming 15.81 g CO2
Guitar playing 22.3 g CO2
Sewing 51.0 g CO2

It seems that sewing tops the carbon footprint chart above, but that is estimating that I have used the iron for 10 minutes during my hour of sewing, which is a bit of guesswork on my part. However, generally speaking I only use the iron when I have a number of items waiting to be pressed; I tend to do the ironing pile at the same time as I might press a few seams for my hobby, so it may be an overestimate. It doesn’t matter, my calculation, crude as it is, does highlight that an iron is a big electricity consumer and should be used when only absolutely necessary.

Of course, this isn’t the full story, I haven’t taken into account the purchase of fabric and notions for my hobby, but then, this should be offset against the purchases of clothes that would otherwise be made, if this wasn’t my hobby. I started to explore this and found myself getting swept into the complexity of it all! I think this topic is worth a whole extra blog post on its own……

I hope this has been an interesting diversion from the usual sewing-related posts. I know there are some geeks out there, like me who love spreadsheets and stats!


#MakeNine2019 – Knitting Project: More photos of the Toasty Slipover

Now that the weather has calmed down a bit, I have managed to get outside for photo-taking. I particularly wanted to take photos of the ensemble I’m wearing today. Firstly, I wanted to show my latest knitting project modelled, rather than photographed flat and secondly, I wanted to show how I envisage wearing it.

The shirt in the pictures below, is made from white linen crepe. It’s a beautiful fabric, but I have scarcely worn it. It’s a very versatile shirt, I could pretty much wear it with anything. But I have just been too scared to wear it, lest I spill some horrendously staining food item down it. It has stayed in the wardrobe since it was made, which is rather sad. I’ve now found that this shirt is absolutely perfect with my new sweater. I’m hiding most of the white and in particular the spill-prone just-below-chin areas!

Worn in the photos:

Toasty Sweater modelled with my white linen shirt

Toasty Sweater modelled with my white linen shirt

The whole outfit is a bit of a departure from my usual style, so I think some more road-testing for both the shirt and the jumper are required in combination with other items from my wardorbe. I think that perhaps this wide-legged beige pair of trousers will also work with these two items. I also have a blue denim shirt in my wardrobe that I think might also work with the jumper. The denim shirt is an old (could probably be called vintage) item that hangs around in the wardrobe, and again hasn’t been worn much.


I’m trying to think if I have a skirt that would also work with the shirt and jumper, but I’m not convinced there is. Perhaps that could be a possible future make.

Toasty slipover

I was convinced there was an end that I hadn’t woven in somewhere under my arm, but couldn’t find it….hence the pose……