“Secret Patchwork” Coco

I realise I am MASSIVELY late to the party here, but I finally made my first Tilly and the Buttons Coco!

I’d been a bit hesitant to get started as stretch fabrics scared me a bit, but I realised during Me-Made-May that I needed to make some casual tops, and Coco seemed like the perfect fit.

Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t start well. When visiting my parents last week, my mum and I called in to The Fabric Place in Beeston, near Nottingham, and I found this big piece of medium-weight polyester jersey in the remnant bin for £2. “Great”, I said, “I’ll easily be able to get a Coco out of this!”. Famous last words.

As it happens, it wasn’t easy to get a Coco out of this at all. Sure, the remnant was 2 meters long but it was a funny shape with big lumps cut out of it, and after laying out all my pattern pieces it soon became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to cut it all out in the normal way.

At this point, anyone with more patience/common sense that me would have put it all away and saved it for a smaller project, but – oh no- not me! I had my heart set on a stripy Coco and I was damn well going to make one. Instead I cut out the bodice front and back, then patched together three offcuts (being super careful to match the stripes, of course!) then cut the sleeves out of the resulting larger piece of fabric. Obviously there was no fabric left for such luxuries as pockets or cuffs (which are optional on this pattern) so I had to make the very simplest top version, with 3/4 length sleeves. I was careful to make sure that the seams were on the back of the sleeves when cutting out, so they were less obvious. I think I just about got away with it, right?!

Can you see the joins here?

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From the back

They’re easier to spot from the inside (modelled here but my glamorous mannequin assistant, Patsy).

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From the inside

Still struggling top spot them? Does this help?

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Joins run parallel to the orange lines – from the back
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Joins run parallel to the orange lines – from the inside

The black and white stripes definitely help – on a plain fabric it would have been way more obvious.

Aside from that though, I think this is a pretty successful make! I spent a long time tracing and resizing the pattern; I’m very precious about my patterns, and couldn’t even contemplate cutting into the original, and I’m really curvy and often have to make a lot of adjustments, and leaving the original intact provides a bit of a safety net. In this instance there was a full three sizes between my waist and hips, creating the kind of shape that looks like it should never work, but it did. I fact, it’s genuinely the best-fitting top I’ve ever owned.

Just like the Cleo I made a couple of months ago, the pattern was perfectly clear and easy to sew up. The instruction booklet included with the pattern is free from jargon and packed with helpful tips, and the colour photos make a helpful visual reference. Once I sat down at my sewing machine I’d made it in just a few hours – there were only three pattern pieces, no fiddly darts, facings or fastenings, and no need to finish the raw edges as (joy of joys!) knit fabric doesn’t fray. It’s a great introduction to sewing with stretch fabrics, and it’s definitely given me a boost of confidence.

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It’s easy to see how Coco can quickly become a wardrobe staple. I’m absolutely delighted with the result – the boat neck is flattering on my broad shoulders and big boobs, the fit is nice and relaxed and I even managed to (mostly) pattern match all the stripes! I know it’ll help make up loads of outfits, and I’m already planning more variations. Plus, now I’ve done the hard work, I’d be able to whip up more in no time.

Let me know if you’ve made Coco, and how you got on. Plus, has anyone else been so – ahem – resourceful with fabric as I have here?! If so I’d love to see/hear about it!

I’ll leave you with this perfectly captured, if not altogether flattering shot by Dave, with added speech bubble:

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Daddy Cool

Happy Fathers Day!

(Okay, so I realise that number of people reading this who also happen to be fathers will be small – and of those one of those will probably be my own father – but it seems polite to say!)

My dad’s pretty fab, and to celebrate I decided to make him the Men’s Cargo Shorts from the book The Great British Sewing Bee; Fashion with Fabric. This is partly because I knew they were his style and would suit him, but also because after participating in Me-Made-May I realised I should try some more challenging makes.

 

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Here’s the picture in the book

This was categorised in the book as “Advanced” and it’s easy to see why. There’s a zip-fly, five button-holes, darts, three types of pocket and what feels like miles and miles of topstitching. But in spite of that, they were surprisingly easy to make!

Admittedly I had a minor mishap with the zip-fly. I’d never sewed one before and the thought of it was giving me the heebey-jeebies, but the instructions in the book were super clear and I basically nailed it first-time. At least, I thought I’d nailed it, before realising that I’d sewed it in the wrong way round, so the zip was back-to-front. A lot of swearing happened at that point, and I had to unpick it all and start again. But it went well then too, thank goodness! My only grumble was that the zip sticks out from under the fly shield at the bottom, presumably because it was too long, but I promised I followed the instructions to the letter…

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The zip sticks out the bottom of the fly shield on the reverse. Whoops…
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But it looks pretty good from the front…
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And it opens!

Other than that though they’re astonishingly easy provided you don’t rush. There are a lot of pattern pieces but they’re really clearly labelled and the instructions are well written. Of course, traditionally cargo shorts are made from strong canvas and that’s such a blessing! I bought my 100% cotton green/grey fabric from Saeed’s in Walthamstow for £8 p/m it was an absolute joy to work with. No slipperiness, no stretch – what a dream! The only slight problem came very near the end as I sewed on the belt loops, and the multiple layers of heavy fabric were a bit much for my sewing machine to cope with, bending two needles in the space of 10 minutes…

On the subject of belt loops, they’re a bit piddly aren’t they?! I definitely get the impression they’re more for show than for anything so practical as, say, supporting a belt. I mean, have you ever seen a men’s belt that skinny? I think the waistband generally is too thin. Next time (and there will be a next time, because the BF has already requested a shorter pair, with fewer pockets) I’ll make the waistband wider, and alter the belt loops to fit.

But in spite of that, don’t they look great?! I’m so pleased with how they turned out. They’re definitely the most complicated garment I’ve ever made, and I’m really pleased with myself for finishing them. Using my over-locker to finish all the seam allowances has made them look really professional, and I think the main fabric and blue printed pocketing work really well together. I’d definitely recommend this pattern – just make sure you don’t rush it. And make sure you measure that zip, and let me know if yours sticks out the bottom too…

Most importantly, Dad looks pretty chuffed with them, doesn’t he?! Has anyone else made something for their dad this year? I’d love to see them and get ideas for next year!

Me-Made-May: An Evaluation

Hey look, I’m writing a blog! And it’s no coincidence that it comes straight after my first ever Me-Made-May.

For the uninitiated, MMMay was started by sewing blogger Zoe on So Zo, What do you know? a few years back. The idea is that designer/makers can make a pledge – any pledge – with the basic aims of wearing and sharing their own work. For some that might mean wearing a customised item each week, whilst others might dress head to toe in a new handmade outfit every day of the month. But most of us are somewhere in between. My own personal pledge was to wear at least one me-made item every day in May, and to post a photo of it on Instagram. Here I’ve included my favourite shots of each garment, but you can look at the whole month’s worth on Insta.

 

Truth is, I went into it just wanting to start a record of my sewing and build some confidence in my own dress-making abilities. Yep – I achieved both those things. Good for me! But the whole experience (yes, I called it an “experience”!) totally exceeded all my expectations. Here are some of the unexpected benefits:

  • The love and enthusiasm of the craft community is overwhelming. I was moved (yes, moved – that’s not even an exaggeration) but the way strangers reach out to one another with questions, answers, advise and musings. Every day more than a handful of skilled sewists diligently hit their “like” buttons for everything I wore, and offered a few words of encouragement or clap-hands and love-heart emojis. I’m so often plagued by feelings of “everyone else is so much more skillful/knowledgable/stylish than me” that I can be shy (embarrassed, even!) to share my work. It gets even more exciting when that praise came from someone you really admire (like when Tilly and the Buttons featured my Cleo dress on their Insta story alongside Charlotte Newlands from Sewing Bee… I was SO excited!). It has been an absolute joy connecting with people. The sewing community really are a helpful and friendly bunch.
  • By following other people’s MMMay posts I’ve discovered a load of indie pattern companies I’d never heard of. I mean, HOW had I never come across Closetcase patterns until now?! I’m completely obsessed by their Ginger Jeans (I mean, SEWING JEANS?! That blows my mind!) and am absolutely chomping at the bit to start their Sew Your Dream Jeans Course.
  • I feel WAY less awkward about being photographed. I started the month all like “ohh, I hate it/get my good angle/my hair looks weird/I look pregnant/I look like my mum”. I used to avoid cameras in the same way that other people might avoid, say, the plague, or fang-toothed tarantulas. But now I’m fine with it, and can tolerate my own image. In fact, some might say I’m now too comfortable in front of the camera…
  • I’ve made better use of all the clothes I own. Day to day, I normally fall back on a lot of shop-bought jersey dresses and a whole heap of flamboyant jewellery, but having to wear me-made every day has forced me to rifle through the lesser-known areas of my wardrobe to create a variety of outfits. I also realised how many of my clothes I just don’t wear, sparking a long-overdue declutter (much to the benefit of a few of my friends, the local charity shops and my eBay account!). I can now actually see the things hanging in my wardrobe, which is a novelty.
  • In fact, it’s made me want to stop buying clothes all together (and there’s something I never thought I’d say!). I’ve come to the realisation clothes bought on impulse and never worn are a waste of money, no matter how thriftily I came by them. By contrast, a “slow-fashion” (handmade) wardrobe has to be more considered. And that has to be better.
  • I’ve identified the gaps in my me-made wardrobe! Let’s face it – as much as I love them, pencil skirts, peplum tops and dungaree dresses will only get me so far. I realised I tend to fall back on the quick-fix instant gratification of easy makes, but I could do with new challenges. Next on my list are super-flared cullottes, a Coco tee, a long coat for winter and of course those seductive Ginger Jeans…
  • I gained a beautiful vintage mannequin, now called Patsy. Until now I’ve been quite shy about my sewing, but when my friend Fiona saw my posts on Instagram she asked if I wanted to take the mannequin off her hands and make use of her. She – a 1950’s adjustable Chil-Daw – was given to Fiona by her aunt, but she and her fiance are planning a move to Scotland can’t take Patsy with them, so they wanted to find her a new home. I’m the lucky recipient. How lovely is that?!
  • I’m absolutely super stoked for May next year all ready! I’m going to make every effort to have a larger me-made wardrobe by then, so day-to-day next May should be easier too. And if you haven’t done it before, I strongly encourage it – it’s easier than you think!

Ultimately, it’s been so enjoyable that I’ve just HAD to start this blog, to prevent any post-May withdrawal symptoms. I should also thank my lovely patient photographers – David, Fereuse, Sam, Babs, Agi, Corrinne and Rachel – and warn them that they might not be off the hook just yet! Sorry guys. I plan on sharing my makes, any new skills, pattern and craft shop reviews among other things. At some point I’ll create a mailing list, so you can follow along if you like! Why not say hello?