Monday, November 27, 2017

The Savvy Seamstress - It's a real book!

This box of books arrived a couple of weeks ago. A slight glitch behind the scenes means that it's taken this long to post about it here. But here is The Savvy Seamstress.

As I've mentioned before, the concept behind the book is that once you have a pattern for a garment, you can keep changing design features on it to make it into many different garments.

For example, a casual short sleeved shirt (or pyjama top) can become a classic long-sleeved shirt with cuffs, collar stand and button placket. These are teeny little boy's shirts, but the same could be done for mens' or womens' garments.

It's the way I make most of the clothes that get made around here - for myself and for my girl - and the same processes can be used for tweaking designs from basic blocks/slopers.

I've already used my book a few times to help explain things to my Fashion students... which is how I originally came up with the idea of writing it.

All the processes are broken down into baby-steps, with cheat's methods for getting a better finish. It's not about couture - more of a blend of industrial fashion production sewing and handmade techniques, which is how I sew when I'm sewing for myself.

I've included simple processes to get beginners started - pockets and closures - but I've included a few more advanced methods, like draping new necklines and making classic shirt collars.There are lots of diagrams and photos to help you through...

It's a strange thing to write a book... to work so closely on a document that you can no longer actually 'see' it. Trying to turn off my critical eye is a tricky thing. But I'm the author and that's what authors do. You are the audience, and I hope that you like it and find it useful. 

Go forth and tweak those patterns. Make beautiful garments!

BTW - my critical eye spotted a little mistake (which makes me feel a bit sick...).
Page 45, Step 1: inside brackets should read "or fuse a strip of interfacing" instead of "sew stay tape". Not a big one, but still... that critical eye. I'm sorry that this slipped through the multiple edits and checks that were made in the making of this book. We did our very best.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tutorial: Roll-Up Shopping Bag

Gosh, it's like old times... me doing free tutorials on my blog! It's been a while...

This shopping bag is simple enough for relative beginners to sew, and is a quicker alternative to the Zip-Away Shopping Bag (although not as fancy!).  It is made to roll up, so that it can be carried conveniently in a handbag.

I'll be demonstrating how to make this foldaway shopping bag at the Spotlight Inspiration Space at The Royal Melbourne Show on Wednesday, so I thought it best to have the back-up of the process written up as a resource for everyone to tap into.  If you're going to the show, you can find me there at these times. I'll be adding tips and tricks and lots of chat to these basic instructions, so do come along - you might learn something and you'll make me feel a bit better for having an audience!

(My apologies for the quality of the photos in this tutorial. Limited time during daylight hours and an AWOL digital camera resulted in these being shot on an iPad at night time. But you know... it's who's complaining...?)

Simple Foldaway Shopping Bag


3 x fat quarters 2 x matching, 1 x contrast
35cm x 6mm or 12mm elastic
35cm double-sided fusible Peltex / Legacy Fuse And Shape / Fast2Fuse
1m x 15-20mm fusible tape with paper backing or vliesofix cut into strips
A tailors awl/stiletto


Matching Fat Quarters
2 x Length (parallel to selvedge) of fat quarters (about 50cm) x 50cm. Tidy up to make all edges straight and all corners 90-degree angles.

Elastic - 1 x 20cm 1 x 15cm

Contrast Fat Quarter –
Straps – 2 x Length of FQ x 10cm
Base – 2 x 37.5cm x 15cm

Double-sided Peltex/Legacy Fuse and Shape / Fast2Fuse - Bag Base – 34.5cm x 12cm, with the length running parallel to the side edges of the Peltex, as it comes off the roll.


1. Fold the bag body in half lengthwise and snip a small notch top and bottom to mark the centre points of both edges.

2. On the top edge, measure and snip notches 9cm and 11cm from the centre notch on both sides of centre. On the bottom edge, measure and snip notches 17.5cm from the centre notch on both sides of center.

3. Fold and press the straps to make a 4-fold strap.

4. Topstitch the strap with four or five even rows.

5. Fuse the Peltex between the two layers of the base fabric, leaving an even seam allowance around all four edges.

6. Fold the base in half lengthwise and widthwise, snipping a notch to mark the centre on all four sides.

7. Fold elastic in half and stitch the raw ends to the centre notch on one of the short ends.


1. Seam the side seams of the bag body. (I like to use a French Seam, but you could equally plain seam with a 12mm seam allowance and overlock or zigzag the edges.)

To sew a French seam:
a) Place the two bag pieces wrong sides together and stitch the side seams with a 4-5mm (a very scant ¼ inch) seam allowance, backstitching at both ends of the seam.

b) Press the seam allowances open.

c) Turn the back wrong side out. Press the side seams flat, folding neatly along the seam line.

d) Stitch the seam with a 6-7mm (a generous ¼ inch) seam allowance, backstitching at both ends of the seam.

2. On the bottom edge of the bag, find the centre notch and align it with a centre notch on one of the long edges of the bag base, with the right side of the bag fabric facing the side of the base that has the elastic on it. Pin the centre notches together with the pin at a right angle to the edge of the fabric.

3. Align the bag fabric to the long edge of the bag base, matching the notches on the bag fabric with the ends of the Peltex within the bag base. Pin them together exactly at this notch point, with the pin at a right angle to the edge of the fabric, as shown below. There should be 1.5cm seam allowance overhanging beyond the pin.

4. With a 1.5cm seam allowance, stitch between the outer pins (without crossing over them) to attach the bag to the base along the long edge. Repeat steps 2 to 4 to attach the other side of the bag to the base.

5. Snip at a 45-degree angle from the edge of the seam allowance to the very ends of the backstitched seams.

6. Match the unattached part of the bottom edge of the bag to the base, aligning the centre notches on the base to the side seams of the bag. If there is any excess fabric in the bag, smooth it into a tuck at the side seam, so that the fabric sits smooth and flat at the corner points.

7. Backstitching at both ends of the seam, stitch across the short ends of the bag and base with a 1.5cm seam allowance.

8. Overlock/serge or zig-zag around the four sides of the bag base, catching all layers of fabric in the stitch.

9. With the bag fabric to the top as you work at the machine, fold the seam allowance on a long edge of the base to match its outer edge to the seamline.  Use an awl to help hold the fabric in place, and stitch the edge of the seam allowance down, a few mm from the overlocked edge. Repeat this for the other long edge, and then each of the two short edges, in turn.

You have now attached the base – turn it through to the right side.


1. Fold the 15cm length of elastic in half and – on the right side of fabric – stitch the loop in place over a centre notch on the top edge of the bag, as shown below.

2. Again, on the right side of fabric, centre the raw ends of a straps to the notches on the top edge of one side of the bag. Making sure that there are no twists in the strap, pin and then stitch the strap firmly into place about 1cm from the edge of fabric. Repeat for the other strap on the other side of the bag.

3. Fuse 15mm (5/8'') fusible tape (or strips of fusible webbing cut with a ruler and blade to this width) on the right side of fabric, all the way around the top of the bag, aligning the edge of tape with the raw edge of fabric.

4. Fold and press the top edge, using the paper as an edge to make a clean fold.

5. Working on the inside of the bag, with the straps and elastic hanging down on the inside of the bag, fold and press a second turning, using the other side of the tape as the folding edge. Then take the backing paper off the tape and press the double-turned hem into place.

6. Topstitch the hem turning to the bag fabric, 1-2mm from the inner folded edge.

7. Lift the straps out of the bag. Working on one strap end at a time, smooth the strap (from where it attaches to the bag) over the top edge. 

8. Turn the bag to the right side of fabric and stitch a reinforcement x-in-a-box shape between the top of the bag and the hem stitchline, to hold the strap firmly in place.

9. With the elastic still facing down into the bag, stitch a reinforcement over the ends that are enclosed within the hem.

You now have a finished bag!

You can fold up the bag from top to bottom, and then roll it into the base. Flip the elastic around the whole she-bang and you’re ready to go shopping!

Don't forget to check in to my Classes page to find out about the online and real life classes that I teach, and/or follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for updates.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Savvy Seamstress - What's it All About?

I'm reposting from the C&T Publishing blog (with their permission), an excerpt from my book,  The Savvy Seamstress: An Illustrated Guide to Customizing Your Favorite Patterns. I've included some of the photos and added some annotations to to help explain a little more about how it all works.

“I’ve always been a garment maker. I was a child who made doll clothes, a teenager who was obsessed with sewing my own clothes, a fashion student, a designer pattern maker, and then a pattern designer and teacher. I still make most of my own wardrobe, often using the same small selection of basic patterns that I adapt with different fabrics and design details. I’m lucky to have a strong background in pattern making and sewing, but, as a teacher, I know that even relative beginners can learn to make the most of their pattern stash this way.

When I began teaching at a fashion college, most of the pattern-making and industrial sewing resources I found were pitched at a higher skill level than my students had. I had to break down the processes into small, achievable steps so my students could make the garments they designed. It occurred to me that the average home dressmaker could benefit from the same information.

By learning how to make a few key design alterations, you can keep transforming your favorite patterns— adding or removing collars and pockets, changing neckline shapes, and swapping a zippered back for a button front, a waistband for a facing, or vice versa. The variations are endless. I hope that this book gives you the inspiration and the confidence to try some of these changes, and that you are amazed by what you can achieve.”

The skirt started out in life with a waistband, and now it has a lowered waist with a facing. The same could be done to the pants in the photo at the top. Zippers can be swapped from back to front to side, and invisible zippers and lapped zippers can be used interchangeably. The pants could have a fly front.

These little blouses (above and below) are made from the same pattern. Apart from being on different sized kids, they look different because the design features have been changed. The one above has short sleeves, a lowered neckline and a rounded Peter Pan collar, and the one below has a higher neckline with a pointed collar, and long sleeves, gathered into a cuff. There was also a collarless version.

By adding a skirt, the little blouse could become a dress... and the front buttons could be swapped for a zipped back... 

...which is what happened with a heap of tween/teen dresses. Necklines were changed. Collars and pockets were added and removed. Zippered backs became buttoned fronts, and vice-versa. The one dress became many.

Mens' and boys' shirts were also tweaked with different collars, cuffs, pockets and sleeve lengths.

Classic styling can become casual, and even pajama styling... all from the one pattern.

The book itself does not contain the patterns, because it's about learning basic techniques to tweak the patterns that you love and want to expand upon. 

I had great plans to get the patterns for these garments all finished and ready to accompany the book, when it is released in November, but (insert one-woman-show-work-life-balance-(with-curveballs) story here..), that development has been slow. 

I'm currently working on instructions for the pants, which are graded from size 6-20. If you'd like to test the instructions and fit for me, I'll have them (to use for free) at my next class at Cutting Cloth, on the 18th Sept.

I also have skinny pants in size 8, a large men's shirt, a size 10 girl's dress and size 5 in the blouse and classic (boys') shirt. These have not been graded, but if you would like to make them IN THESE SIZES and with my guidance rather than written instructions, you can do so at my classes at Cutting Cloth over the next few months.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Better Bag Club, and other stories (..and classes)

We had our first Better Bag Club workshop a couple of weeks ago, at GJ's in Fairfield.

This is once-a-month workshop that you can drop in and out of, working on whatever YOU SEW GIRL pattern, or project from The Better Bag Maker or You SEW Girl that you like. I'm there to troubleshoot and show tips and tricks and techniques. My maximum class size is 8 participants, so that's a lot of one-on-one attention.  Everyone works on their own project, but the group also allows for soaking in the learning experiences of a wide range of projects, if that's what you'd like to do.

The room is big and light and airy, and lunch is provided, and we had a lovely time last month. A couple of the gals are off to far-flung and exotic places this month, so there are places open for 26th August, if you'd like to come along.

And GJ's have new stock of The Better Bag Maker, in case you're looking for it.

For the last 10 weeks, I've (unexpectedly) been teaching almost every weekday in the city. It cuts into my pattern-development and general life-organisation time, but at least I get to watch the changing landscape of the guerrilla crafting on these (anti-car-on-footpath) cement blocks outside Southern Cross Station.

I've started teaching a new subject in my college job. For me, this is always an exciting thing to do - if a tad time-consuming - as I madly gather new ideas and develop resources for students. It's a fundamental design subject about ideas generation and exploring a wide range of materials, so my brain has been POPPING with ideas about thinking outside the square, how to look sideways and all those other cliched phrases about originality in design.

Quiet moments in the staffroom have been spent crocheting bread bags. At home, I've been exploring all manner of paper folds and tessellations. I've been folding, weaving and melting plastic milk bottles and spiralising water bottles to make string. My Pinterest boards have filled with architecture, interior design, industrial design and origami-inspired ideas. It's stimulating and exciting to use other parts of my brain, and to look further afield for inspiration.

As we near the end of this term, and I prepare for the next deluge of marking, my mind is turning back to the garment patterns that are in development. I'll be ploughing back into those over the next couple of months and calling out for pattern testers (and there will be free versions of patterns to try in my classes at Cutting Cloth, for anyone who wants to test them there). Watch Facebook, Twitter and Insta for more immediate updates on those patterns.

So yes... Busy times....Life is a constant juggling act.... Inspiration is everywhere.... And please excuse my lack of online activity lately. I'm still here, and all is well.