Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life

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MMM Week 3: On wardrobe size

Week 3 and I’m still managing to carry on with wearing my me-made items. I just keep forgetting to photograph my outfits, hence I’m a little late with this post. Some repeats have crept into this week’s wardrobe but that is inevitable with its smallish size.


This week I have been pondering the question of wardrobe size. I wonder, what is the ideal size for a wardrobe? There have been a number of different projects around on the internet on this topic.

The six items or less challenge seems rather radical. This is I suppose a challenge, rather than a basis for the ideal wardrobe. There’s more about this here

Alternatively, there is Project 333. Here the proposal is that your wardrobe consists of 33 items for 3 months. The count includes outerwear, shoes, clothing and accessories, but not sleepwear or underwear. This is far more realistic as far as a wardrobe goes. I would go as far as to say that the 33 items could probably cover half a year or even a year. Your clothes would get a good rotation and there would be scope for choosing different wear for social occasions, work and more casual attire.

Another concept that I found interesting is the idea of optimal frequency of wear. You suggest how frequently you wish to wear an item and then calculate your optimal number of shirts or trousers. For example, if you set your optimal frequency for shirts to be 8 times a year, then your optimal number of shirts is 45. This example is taken from the Recovering Shopaholic website. I must admit I find the idea of that many shirts overwhelming, but maybe I have that many in my wardrobe (half of which I don’t wear!)

I’m not sure it is good to obsess completely on the numbers, though. I am particularly impressed with the Wardrobe Architect Series from Sarai at Colette Patterns. The series started at the beginning of the year (I guess to tie in with New Year resolutions). I’d only just started my sewing journey at the time and I didn’t feel that it was quite the right time for me to join in. The series examines your style, your colour palette and lots more besides. It concentrates on crafting a wardrobe that reflects who you are. Perhaps I need to take a more serious look at this strategy, now that I feel more confident in my abilities to create new clothes.

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A Woolly Creation

At the weekend, I was very pleased to get a look at the first showing of Briswool. Briswool is a project to knit, crochet and needle-felt, the city of Bristol including the iconic buildings of the city and other landmarks. More than 100 people across the city have been involved in some way.


Paper Village, the art and craft shop was entirely taken over by the growing woolly landscape. There was the famous Clifton suspension bridge, and the Matthew, the ship that took John Cabot to Newfoundland. The cathedral sat alongside the river and a mass of crocheted hot-air balloons were suspended around Concorde. I was particularly enthralled by the needle-felt penguins in the zoo and the crafty fox making an appearance out of the crochet bushes on Brandon Hill.

Regretfully, I am not a knitter, but I would dearly like to take part and make a small part of this magical woolly creation. The project isn’t finished yet, so I’ve still got a chance.





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April Quick Make – Passport Holder

This is the second of my travel accessories, after the eye mask I made last month. I had plenty of the nautical-style fabric left and I decided to put it to good use making a passport holder. I was unsure how best to make this, I didn’t want anything that made the passport big and bulky to carry around, so I add cardboard to make it stiff and I didn’t make it significantly bigger than my passport. But I did think that some way of holding the passport open at the photo page would be a bonus. There is nothing worse than grappling with luggage and tickets and trying to find the right page at border control. For this reason I decided to add two elastic straps into the design for this very purpose.

You will need:

Fabric for the outside (I used my nautical-style fabric)
Fabric for the inside (I used some pale blue fabric with stars on it)
Measuring tape
Elastic (6 mm width, approximately 30 cm)

1. Measure the height of the passport. Mine measured 12.5 cm.  Measure the around the passport from one edge of the cover across the spine, to the other edge of the cover. Mine measured 18.0 cm. Add 2.5 cm to both the height and the width measurement.

2. For my European passport, I therefore had a height measurement including seam allowance of 15.0 cm and a width measurement of 21.0 cm.

3. Cut one piece of fabric for the outside and one for the inside according to the size calculated in the first two steps. Therefore I cut rectangles 15 x 21 cms.

4. Cut a piece of wadding the same size as the two rectangles.


5. Cut a piece of fabric measuring 32 cm by 8 cm. This will be used to make the corners on the inside of the passport holder. You may need to adjust the size of these corners for your passport.

6. Fold this piece of fabric in half along its length and press. Top-stitch down the length of of the folded fabric.

7. Cut the top-stitched fabric above into quarters to make the four corners.

8. Next assemble the inside of the passport holder. Place the corners on the inside fabric rectangle and then place the elastic. I made sure that the elastic was tensioned slightly. Next, tack all the pieces in place. I thought assembling all the layers in one go might be a little tricky. Pay special attention to lining up the corner pieces so that they are aligned horizontally and vertically. Make sure the elastic runs vertically from the top to the bottom of the holder. Trim the corner pieces.


9. Next, assemble all the pieces. Place the pieces in the following order:

  • Wadding
  • Outside fabric face up
  • Inside fabric (with corner pieces and elastic attached) face down

10. Pin, then tack in place. Stitch together leaving a small opening, in order to be able to turn the passport holder the right way out.

11. After stitching, trim the seam allowance, then turn the passport holder the right way out and press gently on a low heat.

12. Stitch up the opening. Insert your passport into the holder. All you need now is a holiday!




March Upcycle – Star T-shirt

I’ve seen so many freeze paper stencil on the web that I just had to give this a go. They look like such an easy idea and the possibilities are endless. I had another rather faded old t-shirt to experiment on. I decided to give it a dye first to a more vibrant shade of mauve and then add a star in grey to the front. I also got to try out a bit more Inkscape functionality. I’m really getting the hang of the software.


Dylon Ocean Blue hand dye (or similar dye)

Reynolds Freezer Paper (This isn’t generally available in the UK. I’m not sure if there is any other equivalent that would do the same job. I found that it sold on Amazon)

Fabric paint (I used Marabu Texil)Star T-shirt (Before and After)Dyeing the T-shirt

1. Wash the t-shirt first.

2. Next, dye the t-shirt according to the instructions. I used the whole packet of dye to get a deep colour, but it is possible to use less or mix colours.

3. Let the t-shirt dry and then wash the t-shirt on its own in the washing machine just to make sure that it is colour-fast. Allow to dry.

Creating the template

1. (Optional) Create a template on your computer. I used the freeware program Inkscape to create my star template. I simply drew a star using the Star and Polygon tool and five circles using the Circle tool. I also rounded the stars corners and used the randomise tool to change my star to give it a slightly asymmetrical “hand-drawn” look.

2. Cut out the design and use it as a template on the freezer paper

3. Cut out the design from the freezer paper

4. Place the freezer paper on the t-shirt and iron gently on a hot setting. The paper should adhere to the t-shirt.

Star T-shirt template

5. Apply the paint to the t-shirt using a paintbrush or sponge.

6. Apply another coat of paint if needed (I found to get a solid look that I needed two coats). Allow to dry. Peel off the freezer paper

7. Place a cloth over the paint and fix the dye using the iron on Cotton setting


Sorbetto Top

First of all, I must say what a pleasure it has been to make this top. The Sorbetto top is a free download pattern from the Colette patterns website. It is aimed at the beginner, but is a very wearable design. Although the construction is simple, it is elegant and a perfect top for the summer. The blue sky outside has reminded me that the summer will come!

The instructions are very clear and you can even skip making your own bias binding and buy some commercially for an even easier project.

One of the things that drew me to this top was that the fit could easily be adjusted. I thought I might need to adjust the bust darts or the armscye size. However, once I had done the measurements I found that a size 4, whatever that might be here in England I don’t know, was the perfect fit. I didn’t adjust anything; perhaps I’m just a more American size!

I chose a Japanese cotton lawn. I bought this from Fashion Fabrics. They have a good selection of these at the moment.

Sorbetto Top - Basic

I decided as it was my first go at this pattern to stick to pattern. I kept the pleat at the front and created my own bias binding from the same fabric. This takes a while, but the tutorial here is very useful.

The only drawback I could see with this pattern was that the 1 1/2 yards of fabric suggested was an excessive amount. In the smaller sizes this simply isn’t needed especially with a wider width of fabric. Even after making my bias binding I have huge amounts left. I’ll just have to find another project for rest of the fabric. Oh dear, the collection of remnants just seems to grow rather than diminish!

I’m sure I will make this top again; I would like to take it to a new level though. Perhaps I may draft some sleeves or a different neckline. I could experiment with embellishments and fabrics. The possibilities are endless……

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Trousers – a real challenge…?

Sad to say that the day has come to say goodbye to my pale green corduroy trousers – they have served me well. I simply can’t wear these threadbare items any longer and in a moment of overambitious optimism I have decided that I’m going to try to make a replacement for them.

I’m under no illusions that this project is going to contain a huge number of firsts for me. First project where the fabric has a nap. (That’s raised fibres on the surface on the fabric, not a short snooze!) First attempt at flat fell seams. First pair of trousers. First fly zip. Yikes, just this list is making me feel daunted…..

This whole project represents so many reasons why I want to sew. I haven’t been able to find a replacement for these trousers and sewing your own clothes, at least in part, is about taking control in our clothing choices and not being a victim to the whims of the fashion industry. Corduroy must be so unfashionable at the moment, I simply haven’t seen it much in the shops. Do I care? Absolutely, not!

To start with, I decided simply to record how the trousers have been constructed and find out how to do the basic techniques that I know I’ll need. Rather than just a pencil and paper, I wondered how I could draw on the computer. I had often wondered whether to use Adobe Illustrator for this sort of purpose, but Illustrator is rather expensive for the use I’ll get out of it and experience Adobe Photoshop has taught me that I would probably use only half of its functionality and struggle to learn how to do that at best.

I found an Open Source graphics editor called “Inkscape” and I have been playing with that. It has the advantage of being free and from the little I have attempted it is quite intuitive. Although, my first attempt at free-hand drawing is a little wobbly, I did manage to sketch my trousers. I’m sure I’ll get better.

Corduroy trousers

I’m now taking the trousers apart in order to trace my pattern pieces. There’s no going back now!


March Quick Make – Eye mask

I have been meaning for a while to sew some travel accessories. I bought some nautical-style fabric last month and this was one of my plans for it. There will be more!

You will need:

Paper to make template
Fabric – patterned for the outside of the mask
Fabric – something soft for the inside
Measuring tape
Loop turner
Elastic (1 cm width)

  1. First make a template for the eye mask. I made my own eye mask template as I find that the patterns on the internet a little on the big side. I think I have a child-sized head! You may want to try it out for size before you cut your fabric. If it is a little on the small size, just cut an extra cm around the template.
  2. Cut out the fabric using the template. For the patterned fabric I made sure that the area I cut contained two of the nautical motifs. Cut out another eye mask shape using the template from the other fabric. I used an old towel. It is soft and I felt this would feel comfortable against the eyes.Eye mask pieces
  3. Cut a length of elastic, adjusted to the size of your head.
  4. Cut out a strip of fabric that will be the covering for the elastic, approximately 2.5 cm in width and about 10 cm longer than your elastic.
  5. Fold the strip of fabric in half lengthwise, right sides together and sew approximately 12 mm from the folded edge.
  6. Using the loop turner, turn the fabric right sides out. Next, feed the elastic into the tube.Eye mask - fabric strip
  7. Take the two pieces of fabric that were cut from the eye mask template. Place them right sides together. Insert the elastic at each side (Remember that the elastic should be on the outside once the mask is turned right sides out So insert them on the inside of the mask sandwich). Stitch around the mask with a 5 mm seam allowance. Leave a gap so that the mask can be turned the right way out.Eye mask - attaching elastic
  8. Trim away any excess fabric all around. and clip the curves so that they turn better.
  9. Turn the eye mask to the right side. Iron the mask so that it’s all flat. Turn in the edges where the gap was so they stay in.
  10. Hand sew the gap closed.
  11. Try it on!

Eye mask - finished


Wall-to-wall sewing

Tomorrow, I’ve definitely got a full day of sewing. I’ve enrolled myself on an Overlocking course. I haven’t got an overlocker at the moment, I haven’t been able to justify spending money on one yet, when there are still so many projects I would like to do first on my sewing machine. But given that I do spend a lot of my time in T-shirts, I can’t really continue with making all my own clothes without either getting an overlocker or radically changing my dress sense.

I’m hoping this course will acquaint me with working with an overlocker and knit fabrics. I hope it will equip me with the skills to start using an overlocker from the moment I buy one this way. I’m also looking forward to meeting a few more seamstresses. After all, apart from my Mum and my niece, I don’t know any in real life and certainly no-one else my age.

T-shirts on washing line

Of course, to top off my sewing extravaganza the new series of The Great British Sewing Bee starts in the evening. Is anyone else looking forward to this?

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February Upcycle – Heart t-shirt

Such is the romance of my life that I am sitting writing my blog on Valentine’s day! But never mind perhaps the weekend might be livelier.

Anyway, I have a couple of t-shirts that are quite old and plain. They are quite a bit thicker than any t-shirts I have bought recently because they are so old. They have actually stood the test of time well, but I don’t wear them much, probably because they just aren’t very interesting.

Madeline at Uber chic for cheap has this very easy tutorial for embellishing t-shirts with a cross-stitch heart.


Plain t-shirt

Embroidery floss (I used 3 strands)

Needle with a large eye

Heart T-shirt

Heart T-shirt

It’s such a simple and effective up-cycle, I couldn’t wait to try it out. I used the 2nd template which has the least stitching and is symmetrical. It makes a rather cute t-shirt, I think.

Heart template

One thing I had noticed though is that I think I am going to have to be careful washing this t-shirt in the future. When it isn’t being worn, the stitches are a bit slack and could easier get caught. It is fine when it is worn as the body fills out any of this slack.

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Silk skirt hem

I did think that this would be a dull post, but I mentioned the hem on my silk skirt earlier, so for completeness I thought I’d let you know how I overcame the problem I had with the hem.

When I’d finished my “bronze” skirt, I was happy with it, apart from an unsightly puckered hem. Fortunately, the web has the answer to everything! It seems that my puckered hem is the result of some discrepancy between the “give” in the fabric and that of the thread or stitch in the hem.

I decided to try hemming using a catch stitch. It has a little more stretch. I also knotted the thread every few stitches without pulling it tight, so there was still some slack. This is such a good idea for a hem anyway. There is nothing worse that catching the hem of a skirt with your heel and the whole thing comes down.

Skirt hem (inside)

It was rather time-consuming, but in the end it was worth it and the puckering is no more! I can’t even see evidence of a hem from the right side. I couldn’t believe such a simple change in technique could make such a difference.

Skirt hem (outside)