Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life

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Lekala #4220 – The Sumptuous Silk Party Top

The theme last month at The Monthly Stitch has been Slow Sewing. This coincided well with my desire to make a beautiful top for the Christmas party season. I must admit that this is the first time I’ve actually sewn anything specifically for a party, firstly because I don’t get invited to many (boo hoo!) and there are always far more practical items that need to be sewn.

SIlk top (Lekala 4220)

Silk top – back view

The fabric is a luscious silk from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco and it has been languishing in a bag, occasionally stroked, and replaced, because I feared to use it. I’d also been worried about what to make with it. It needed to be simple and unfussy in design and yet elegant – enter Lekala #4420 pattern.

I did make a number of modifications to the pattern, both to perfect the fit and satisfy my whims. Here’s a summary of them:

  • The sleeves were narrowed by about 12 cms
  • The centre front seam was dispensed with and the front cut as one piece
  • The bias binding applied to the neckline was finished as a tie at the front (instead of using a decorative clasp, which I was sure would be difficult to find)
  • Two upper back panels were cut, just like on a mens’ shirt
  • A little extra (2cm) was added to the centre back, although Lekala patterns are custom-made from your own measurements, the patterns are derived from your circumference and I have to add little at the centre back and take the equivalent amount away at the centre front to get the fit right.
  • Pleats were used instead of gathers to accommodate the width of the sleeve in the cuff
Silk Top (Lekala 4220)

Silk top cuff

I sewed the top using silk thread. I’d not used silk thread before and it does have different properties to the usual polyester or cotton; I noticed, in particular, that it goes through the fabric very smoothly and also as a consequence, it is easier and less damaging to unpick. Quite a handy property when dealing with a delicate fabric!

The instructions are rather brief with Lekala patterns. I’ve written about the first steps in making this top here and I realised that I probably should have constructed the keyhole at the front differently. Given that I had converted the front of the top to one pattern piece, I could have made a more polished finish, by cutting the keyhole in the fabric after applying the facing. As it was, I followed the instructions and struggled to get the facing to turn neatly to the inside. There was also no mention of under-stitching in the instructions. I did this anyway and it did improve the finish, but it is irritating realising a better methodology after you’ve done the work (deep sigh!).

I used French seams throughout and the blouse looks beautiful both inside and out.

Silk Top (Lekala 4220)

Silk Top – Front View

All in all, this top is everything that I could have wished it to be. It looks great with jeans or alternatively with wide-legged trousers, which is what I would wear for a Christmas party.

After the Christmas Party:

I wore the top to the party. The temperature can be hit and miss at these venues and I was lucky that I didn’t have to wear a cardigan over my top, although the long sleeves were welcome. Among all the glitzy and shiny dresses that my colleagues wore, my top didn’t stand out at all and was scarcely noticed. Somehow though I take this as a compliment because sometimes just clothes that “fit in” can be deemed a success, can’t they?

Silk Top (Lekala 4220)

Silk Top – Front view complete with greasy stains

Here’s the less good news though. The venue was rather dark and sometime during the evening, I must have split or my top rubbed against something rather greasy (possibly chocolate brownie) and I have several grease stains on the front and right sleeve. They are rather obvious on the photos, although not so noticeable under artificial lights. I have no idea how it happened (although I do have a track record for spilling dinner down my front, the amount, and certainly the sleeve location suggest more that I leaned against something). Altogether I’m really rather sad about this. Worse still, I didn’t even notice the stains until I tried on the top again for my photos which means the stains have been on the top for days. Does anyone know the best way to remove greasy stains on silk?

SIlk top (Lekala 4220)

Silk top – still looking good from the back!





An update – Christmas party clothing plans and decluttering action

I have realized I haven’t actually written very much this month. I think the rush to get my contributions for Independent Pattern Month at The Monthly Stitch on the blog resulted in posting everything all at once, rather than the pacing that I normally do.

This post is therefore more of an update on my current makes and what I’ve been up to recently.

My current make uses a beautiful silk fabric bought from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco when I was on holiday is California back in 2015. This fabric was expensive and has intimidated me for years! It has also taken me a long time to decide what to make with it. Well, obviously it needed to be a top, given that it is just 1 1/2 yards in length, but I couldn’t decide what pattern to use.

Eventually, I plumped for Lekala #4420. This top is a popular pattern and there are quite a number of these tops posted in the projects section on the Lekala site. The design is relatively simple; long-sleeves, relaxed fit, with pleats and a keyhole at the neckline. But simplicity is probably good with a light-weight, slippery fabric, like the silk I have.


Lekala 4220 Line Drawing

Lekala 4220 Line Drawing

Lekala 4420

Cutting out has been a challenge with the fabric, but I pinned it well, and made sure all my pins were only placed in the seam allowances as the pins leave holes in the fabric.

I made a couple of changes to the pattern. First I decided to cut the front on the fold, rather than cut two separate front pieces. I also, narrowed the billowing sleeves a little. This modification seems popular and has been used here and here.

The first steps have probably been the fiddliest – making the distinctive keyhole and the pleats. I’ve needed to also make lots of bias-binding out of the silk to use for the neckline.

Lekala 4220 neckline

Lekala 4220 neckline

I’m really looking forward to wearing this top. I plan for it to be ready for the work Christmas party. Oddly, I’ve never made anything specifically for the Christmas season before. It will be a first even if it’s only a top!

Lekala 4220 neckline

Lekala 4220 neckline

My decluttering progress has been slow and painful and I think I need to refocus on this. They say that the first step towards change is “awareness” and I’ve been aware for weeks that my decluttering strategy has not been freeing up space in my wardrobe, liked I hoped it would.

As a whole, the “Disney Declutter” strategy had been perfect for characterizing my clothes, but in terms of getting me to relinquish them it hadn’t really worked. I realized I needed more immediate and focused action and a strategy that would work for a working, time-starved person!

Decluttering (12-12-12)

Decluttering (12-12-12)

I read about the 12-12-12 challenge here. The idea is to locate 12 items to throw away, 12 items to donate and 12 items to be returned to their proper home. I think this is probably an American idea, so I think I can substitute “throw away” with recycle. I think placing the number 12 at the heart of this makes the challenge achievable and yet it does stretch me. I can easily locate three or four items in each category, but 12 makes me think a bit more. I also like the idea of returning items to their proper home. In my house, things do end up just lying around and this will be a good incentive for tackling this.

This weekend, I did my first run at the 12-12-12 challenge. I can’t say that I got up to 12 in each category and I didn’t just apply myself to sorting out clothing. But, I think strategy uses a far more achievable  I’ll make it an ongoing activity.







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Manual dexterity and sewing

I’m sure that we all know how our hobbies enrich our lives. In fact, there isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t feel thankful that sewing relieves my tensions at the end of the day and provides me with the creative outlet I crave.

I never thought, however, that much credence was given to sewing outside the crafting world. I was therefore quite surprised by this article on the BBC website.


It seems surgeons are finding that the current crop of medical students have, according to the appropriately named Professor Kneebone of Imperial College “so little experience of craft skills that they struggle with anything practical”.

A brief search on the internet revealed that applicants to medical and dental students are indeed required to demonstrate their fine motor skills by taking along something they’ve made to their interview or playing a musical instrument. However, it still seems that crafts and hobbies are ditched in favour of an ever increasing emphasis on academic studies, when students need a range of abilities to do their chosen course.

To add my own anecdotal experience into the mix, I remember a particular afternoon spent in the lab at university. My background is as a scientist. I was partnered up with a different student and not my usual lab partner, on this occasion. I thought I was in for a treat, as this person was well regarded as being one of the smartest in the class. But, this soon turned to dismay when I realised that she really struggled with the manual dexterity required to conduct the experiment. I seem to recall the experiment required a steady hand, using both the left and the right hand to perform different tasks and lots of hand-to-eye coordination.

Of course, these are all skills that us stitchers use in abundance. So, it does seem that our hobby is prized after all, for its ability to develop manual dexterity.

Operating on a banana

There also seems to be some evidence, as shown in this article, that fine motor training can help medical students pick up other skills requiring manual dexterity, such as suturing techniques more easily. Good news for the medical student when you consider that your first attempt at the procedure on the patient should be up to standard.

Just as a thought, I wonder whether the manual dexterity developed from sewing can help me pick up other practical skills more quickly? Perhaps there is hope for me becoming a better knitter?


IPM 2018: Cosy in me cardi!

The theme for this week’s challenge on The Monthly Stitch has been “One pattern, two ways” so I’m back with a second Driftless Cardigan from Grainline Studio.

For this cardigan I took a completely different direction with my choice of fabric. I ordered some beautiful, but expensive, wool ponte from Stone Fabrics. When I ordered the fabric from Ariane over the phone she told me just how much she loved this fabric and had used it herself to make a zip-up jacket. I was completely sold on the fabric, but was immediately feeling insanely jealous of her zip-up jacket. Anyway, I was committed to making my second Driftless cardigan and was convinced that the fabric would be a good fit for the pattern.

Grainline Driftless Cardigan

Cosy in me cardi!

When the fabric arrived, I opened the packet and a fantastic aroma of wool came forth! The fabric has a reasonable stretch, but not much more than the 20% stretch recommended in the fabric choices for the pattern. Given the narrow-fitting lower arms (see my previous make), I wisely decided to add 2 centimetres to the width from the elbow downwards. I hoped this would accommodate any long-sleeved tops that I would want to wear underneath.

The other change I made was to the back of the pattern, where I decided to eliminate the cocoon shape. I suppose this is because I was intimidated by all those stripes. I feared that the cocoon shape would make a diamond shape with the stripes and I wouldn’t be able to get this even and looking good.

Grainline Driftless Cardigan

The back view – without the cocoon shape

I do like the “straight back” that I used for this cardigan, although I was not home and dry with all the stripes. They still needed to be aligned at the side seams and on the seam that accommodates the pockets, which was particularly tricky; lots of pinning and a fair amount of unpicking was needed.

Stripes all aligned!

Stripes all aligned!

I also changed the neck and front bands so that the stripes run the length of these rather than across them. I can’t imagine how much hassle matching all those stripes would be, so this eliminated the problem and I think looks good too.

Grainline Driftless Cardigan

Take a look at the inside!

I think the striped version is my favourite, but that may be because it is warm and the weather is getting chilly. I also feel I did a good job on the stripe-matching and made some wise choices altering the pattern to eliminate the cocoon shape and widen those lower sleeves. The black and white stripes can be teamed with lots of garments in my wardrobe which is a bonus.


IPM 2018: Driftless and blue

I bought the Driftless cardigan pattern from Grainline Studios some while ago, when it was on sale. I’ve long needed some new cardigans for my wardrobe. Every time Me Made May comes round I always comment on the lack of layering possibilities in my wardrobe and some new cardigans are long overdue.

Driftless Cardigan in blue

Very relaxed!

To quote the blurb that comes with the pattern, it “features pockets and drop shoulders. View A is straight across the bottom, while View B has a split hem and is longer in the back.”


Photo of Driftless Cardigan from Grainline Studio

Photo of Driftless Cardigan from Grainline Studio

I bought the fabric for this cardigan from Ray Stitch in London in July. I had initially ear-marked some denim-coloured marl jersey for this make. I thought this would pair well with my Capri trousers and replace a very shabby looking RTW cardigan. However, I soon discovered that there wasn’t enough fabric on the bolt and I had to pick something else (sob!) I deliberated for a long time, and in the end plumped for a lighter coloured blue marl jersey.

I made View B, which has a split hem and no buttons or button-holes. I cut the pattern, as per my size with no alterations since it is quite a relaxed style.

Driftless Cardigan in blue

Back view shows the cocoon shape

The instructions were straight-forward to follow. I hadn’t made thread chains before, but Jen from Grainline Studio had posted a video on how to make these so that was no problem. The instructions for adding the hem were helpful too. To ensure that there was no gapping between the front and back hems, it recommended that the hem is secured before sewing it.

When I wore the blue cardigan for the first time, I felt immediately like it was an old, faithful cardigan that had been in my wardrobe for ages – it felt so comfortable. However, as time has moved on I have found that I’m just not that happy with the colour I chose. I’m struggling to find good combinations with my other clothes. The darker blue would have been better, but given that wasn’t possible, I think I should have gone for a different colour entirely. Perhaps I’ll feel better about my choice when I can wear it with my lighter-coloured summer clothes, because at the moment it isn’t replacing that shabby RTW cardigan, like I’d intended. I’ll continue looking through my clothes, I’m sure there are some more combinations that will work.

Driftless Cardigan in blue

So comfy – love those long sleeves

Mr Steely took photos of me wearing the cardigan with the Hidden Cats top. I think this is very “full slouch”, even when tucked into my jeans. I prefer the cardigan with a woven top. I’ve been wearing the top loads with my favourite Sorbetto top (wow, that’s an old favourite!) The top has more structure and offsets the relaxed feel of the cardigan.

Driftless Cardigan in blue

The other noticeable thing that has bothered me is that the lower arms are quite tight-fitting.  This is the design intention, but I’m limited to wearing this cardigan over short-sleeved tops. Without thinking about it greatly, I’ve made a cardigan that is much more use for the summer than now. Indeed, I have found that this top is great in the office for staving off the chill associated with the air-conditioning!


IPM 2018: Lekala #7090 “Baker Boy” Hat

I was so uncertain about whether I was going to enter anything for the Independent Pattern Month challenges over at the Monthly Stitch this year. I was worried about the tight deadlines, which hit hard when you have to order fabric online (Bricks and Mortar shops are a bit lacking around here at the moment and ordering can take a while). But then the new challenge ideas came up, and Anything But Clothes really sparked my interest!

Lekala 7090 hat

I decided to use some scraps from previous makes for this challenge, so no visit to distant shops or ordering online was necessary. I used some grey corduroy, which had previously been used to make this Grainline Moss skirt. I also used some light-blue cotton lawn with stars on for the lining, which had previously done service for pocket making on these Papercut Wolf-like jeans.

My reason for choosing to make a hat, is that somewhere between the sun caps I wear in summer and my woolly winter hat, there is a gap. The mornings are cold and I really fancy wearing something on my head, but I haven’t got a good hat for the Autumn. I specifically chose a Lekala pattern too, for one important reason; I have a very small head. Apparently, the average head is 56 / 57 cm, whereas I’m about 51 / 52. Essentially that means that no ladies’ RTW hat has ever fit me and even finding a motorcycle crash helmet has proved tricky. (My current one is actually a child’s crash helmet). Anyway, Lekala do custom-sizing and you can enter your head size when you buy the pattern. I have made a Lekala shirt before and this particular aspect really appealed. (Check out my previous post for some notes on how the sizing works)

I think this hat is called a “Baker Boy Hat”, but I haven’t really seen many bakers wearing these! Mostly the hat reminds me of Sybil Fawlty’s golfing hat or the worker’s hat favoured by Jeremy Corbyn. Without the peak it’s even a bit Samuel L. Jackson. Not sure I was aiming for any of these looks!

Hat Models

The instructions with the pattern were not particularly clear. I would put them on par with the instructions suffered by those of us who are familiar with Burda magazines. The drawing of the hat, with all it’s top-stitching lines was probably more help than anything else as a guide for the hat’s construction. I would say that I had fooled myself into believing that the small size of the hat, meant small effort was required, but this was definitely not the case. These was a huge amount of top-stitching required on multiple layers of fabric, which were hard to manipulate and feed through the machine because of the hat’s shape.


Lekala Hat Technical Drawing

Although, the fabric came from my scraps bag I did visit my local haberdashery shop and purchase some self-covering metal buttons.

Self-cover buttons

The self-covering metal buttons were a dream to use. I was anxious that the corduroy was going to be too thick to cover these buttons, but following the instructions on the packet, I moistened the fabric and then pulled the fabric over the button. There are lots of little gripping teeth on the underside of the button and these held the fabric in place well, while I snapped the back into place.

Self-cover button instructions

The only other thing I needed was something to make the peak rigid. I struggled with finding anything suitable, but after raiding my stationery drawer found what I think was a thick overhead acetate sheet. I did look in the recycling first and couldn’t find any suitable plastic there (I think the plastic used in cold meats packages would have been equally good). This make is really turning into a tale of using up old odds and ends!

Half-way stage (Lekala Hat)

Half-way stage (Lekala Hat)

Inside of the hat before lining added

Inside of the hat before lining added

Inside of Lekala hat lined

Inside of Lekala 7090 hat lined

I went out to the park for some photos. It’s really windy today, but that hat sat on my head fine!

Lekala Hat 7090

Close-up of hat

All in all, I’m proud that this make came out my scraps bag. My only spend was on some thread and the self-covering metal buttons. Although I mentioned above that I do indeed wear caps in the summer and a woolly hat in the winter, I’ve never considered myself a “hat person”. A long history of buying hats that were too large or being stuck with children’s hats has made me a little wary of headgear. But the joy of sewing is that you can of course, made things that fit!


Fabric Africa: Textile Exhibition at Bristol Museum

I happened by chance to come across this all-too-small exhibition of African textiles at the Bristol City Museum. It encompassed only two relatively small rooms, but what a lot they managed to pack in!

The first room was a display of various different fabrics and clothing. The items came from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Sudan, and Mali to name a few of the countries and spanned the late 1800’s to the present day. There was audio commentary, insights into the textile’s origin and first-person stories to provide context.

The second room showed a video of a tailor making up a dress. He had an old electric sewing machine, probably as old as mine. He was so quick and sure with his sewing, it was amazing to watch. I really marvelled that he could apply yards and yards of trim using just one pin!

Here are the pictures I’ve taken of the exhibition and some notes about some of the fabrics. I’m hoping I’ve got all the details down right as I know very little about African fabrics. This exhibition really opened my eyes to the great variety of textiles that come from the continent.

Kaftan (Sierra Leone)

Boubou, or kaftan, made in Sierra Leone (possibly Mandinka people) in the 1960s-70s (on the left)

The kaftan is ancient Mesopotamian in origin. Islamic influence brought it to Africa and from the late 1950s European fashion adopted the garment, where it is commonly seen as beachwear. This kaftan has been dyed using tie-dying or Gara as it is known locally.


Bogolanfini, or “mudcloth”, made in Mali (Bamana people) in the 1980s

Mud cloth is cotton cloth and dyed using fermented mud. The high iron content in the mud produces a black pigment when applied to the cotton textiles. The cloth was originally worn as wraps or made into shirts.

One familiar textile to me are the West African “wax” print cloths. In the early 1800s the Dutch tried to sell their mass-produced version of wax-resist cloth, batik, in Indonesia. But the production process gave a “cracked” look to the finished print and the textiles were rejected by the Indonesians, but became popular in West Africa when Dutch and Scottish trading vessels began introducing the fabrics in those ports. The Dutch company Vlisco still makes this type of fabric, and it is also produced in Ghana.

Tunic made in Cameroon

Tunic, made in Cameroon (Bamenda Tikar people) in the 1960s-80s

Animals are often used as symbols in African art to associate the owner with the qualities of a particular animal.  The elephant represents qualities associated with leadership, strength and wisdom. The u-shaped designs are iron bells on the tunic (above) and are a royal symbol. This type of tunic until recently would have been worn only by the elite of North West Cameroon society.

Tunic from Sudan, Fabric showing Robert Mugabe Zimbabwe, Commemorative fabric, Malawi

Left: Jibbah, or tunic, made in Sudan in the late 1800s Right: Fabric showing Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe Behind: Twentieth anniversary of forming of Republic of Malawi

There were a few textiles that had been designed to commemorate particular events, such as the 20th anniversary of the forming of the Republic of Malawi or for politics, such as the fabric showing Robert Mugabe above.

Sun dress and Masquerade costume

Left: Maxi sun dress (bought in Kenya in 2018) Right: Masquerade costume, made in Nigeria (Igbo people) in early to mid-1990s Behind: Kente cloth, made in Ghana (Asante people), early to mid-1990s

Kente cloth from Ghana was originally woven in traded silk. Between 16 and 24 strips would be sewn together to create the cloths worn only by the king and his family. Today mass-produced and high-end versions of Kente are worn throughout Ghana. The colours in the cloth have symbolic meanings; blue means peacefulness, yellow royalty or wealth.

The masquerade costume from Nigeria represents a young woman who has died. The performer, would wear the full costume which includes a mask, and attempt to help the deceased pass onto the next life.

Adinkra cloth, Ghana

Left: Adinkra cloth made in Ghana (Asante people) in the 1960s-80s

Adinkra cloth was originally worn only at funerals, but it is now worn commonly seen at other important occasions in Ghana. The word “adinkra” refers to the hand-stamped symbols on the cloth. Adinkra means farewell to the dead. On the cloth above the heart signifies love, patience and tolerance, the circles which look like “eyes” mean accepting the supremacy of God and the leaf-like symbol represents keeping confidences.

I noticed on the website once I’d seen the exhibition that they also had put together African textile handling boxes. I think these were primarily designed for children and somehow I hadn’t seen them. There is no better way to explore fabric that to feel it in my opnion, so I was disappointed that I’d missed this.

The exhibition runs until May next year and there is a Fabric Africa fashion show on 17th October.