From the Back of the Closet: The Gardening Shirt

My ‘From the Back of the Closet’ series will cover some of my older pieces that are now well worn and well loved but haven’t yet made it onto my blog.

gardening shirt cropped

My gardening shirt is a great addition to my wardrobe and is used regularly in the garden (not my own sadly but a wonderful community garden nearby) to protect my arms from the harsh Australian sun.

The pattern is a New Look pattern for a tunic – I’ll have to get back to you on what exact pattern it is. I wanted a shirt so I cut it off short for a shirt but I think if I made it again I wouldn’t cut it off quite so short :-).

DSCN2085The fabric is a lovely lightweight striped cotton that I got from Lincraft.  It is a perfect summer fabric because it is cool and breezy but still provides some protection from the sun.

DSCN2079The sleeves end in cute little cuffs with a button. I chose a blue and white striped button that went suprisingly well with the fabric.

DSCN2082The back yoke in the pattern is a single piece cut on the cross grain but I made it into two pieces and cut it on opposite bias grains to get the chevron effect.  I quite like how it turned out.



All in all, a great little shirt that travels well, needs no ironing or special treatment and is great for summer days when you don’t want to expose too much skin to the sun. The photos from this post were taken in the beautiful Rosendal, Free State in South Africa.

Do you make ‘work horse’ pieces that are made for their practical purpose rather than beauty?



Sewing in powder and lipstick

A friend of mine sent this to me and I love it!

Singer Sewing manual 1949

Singer clearly understood that when a woman has a sewing project on her mind, it is virtually impossible to get her to think of anything else so she needed instructions to think clearly, get the housework done and get dressed before she dived into her sewing projects.

I regret to admit that it is HIGHLY unlikely that you’ll find me in a ‘clean dress’ with my ‘hair in order’ and ‘powder and lipstick put on’ when I’m in the midst of a project. And if you were to drop by unexpectedly, I’m afraid you may have to wait for me to get out of my pajamas or faded tank top and into something decent – my husband is used to it already.  And the dishes and housekeeping?  Hmm, there are definitely days when sewing is much higher on the priority list and the kitchen is rather neglected.

And you?  What do you wear while you sew? Would you make a good 1949 seamstress?

Ms C’s Bird Chair


Friends of ours recently moved into a beautiful flat near us and did a fantastic job kitting it out with an ecclectic mix of fabulous pieces gathered from from the wonderful world of eBay. This exercise included the purchase of a piano for which the cost of moving and tuning it was more than the piano itself – but how fun to have a piano in your home?!  Some of the pieces of furniture were bought for their innate potential rather than the faded ‘granny’ fabric that first met the eye.  And this is where I came in.

I was asked to help with the home-making project by covering the cushions for one of the chairs in a fun bird fabric that Ms C had found at Ikea. Of course I was delighted at being asked and embraced the challenge. The first task was to pull apart the old covers to make a pattern for the new cushions.  I also managed to salvage the zip and had considered saving the piping cord but this was rather damaged and I found that buying piping cord was a pretty simple exercise:  You can get varying thicknesses from Lincraft.

DSCN1077I painstakingly made meters and meters of bias binding to turn into piping for the edges of the cushions.  And carefully laid and cut out the pattern pieces to have a good selection of birds in the right places on the cushions.

DSCN1080Although I had bought the correct needles, piping foot and extra strong upholstery thread (I was advised to only use it as the top thread – keep the bobbin with normal weight thread), my machine was NOT enjoying sewing through the piping and the two layers of fabric to construct the cushion. I tried many different iterations but I think I may have been asking a bit much from my dear old lady sewing machine – she’s probably older than I am so deserves some respect.

DSCN1076  DSCN1075

I ended up putting the top cushion together without the piping, while for some reason the bottom cushion worked fine with the piping. But when I took them over and saw the cushions together on the chair, I wasn’t happy. They needed piping for that professional finish.

The key, I discovered, was to get the right zipper foot.  So I searched the online and offline shops, bought two incorrect feet and finally found a zip foot that worked. And eventually, I got my the piping finish I wanted!  I was pretty happy with how the cushions turned out in the end and even happier at seeing how proud Ms C was of her newly refurbished chair in her beautiful apartment.


DSCN1074Do you have any tips for sewing upholstery on a domestic machine? At the moment I feel like I’m just trying things out by trial and error.

The ‘Don’t Stand in my Light’ Party Clutch

This little party clutch is the perfect accessory when you’re dashing out with your friends, a smile on your face and a “nothing-can-touch-me” attitude.

The pattern is from Elizabeth Hartmann’s Simple Party Clutch Pattern (here) as featured by Sew Mama Sew. It is a fantastic tutorial with great photos and instructions for every step of the way.  I was a little intimidated with the clasp and the thick heavyweight interfacing, but the instructions are really clear and it was great to watch it all come together in the end.

DSCN0072The fabric is a printed cotton from a Cape Town designer, Tracy Rushmere, who has a fabulous line of fabrics called Shine Shine. Each of the designs tells a story and they are all bold colours with a distinctly African flaire.  This one is called “Don’t Stand in my Light” and shows a woman on the phone with her arm around a cheetah. She even has an Obama print called “Hooray for the president” – You’ll have to check out her website. I see that she mainly sells product and not fabric – I may just have been lucky when she had a sale on at her studio but it’s worth a try if you’re interested in tracking down some of this fun fabric.

DSCN0080The lining is a red dotty quilting cotton. The bag closes with a magnetic snap and has a strap that can swing over your wrist or shoulder.

DSCN0078It’s a great tutorial and a useful and fun addition to the accessory drawer.

Has anyone else made this pattern? Or do you have another favourite bag pattern for me to try?

The Purple Rose Tie Top


This little top has already become a staple in my work wardrobe. The pattern is my own design.  It is a simple darted tank top that I made quite long so that it could be tucked in properly. The neck has a little notch at the front centre and a fairly wide tie that forms a bit of a collar.

The fabric is a piece of mystery silky satin (or satiny silk?) with bright pink roses on a purple background. I picked up this piece (just enough for this top) during The Fairy Godmother Fabric Stash Raid.


Most tops I’ve seen like this are button down but I thought I’d try it without the buttons down the front. Do you think it works like this?




The back collar gapes a little so maybe in the next revision I need to curve the tie so that the inside is a little sorter than the outside and it holds its shape a little better.  But the silky fabric feels great to wear and the colour brings an element of fun into the office.

Stretchy sewing: Making the stretch block toile


Sewing with knits or ‘stretchy’ fabric has always been a bit erratic for me.  Some projects work out well while others clearly looked home made and miss that professional touch that I’m aiming for.  So the past few weeks have been my ‘learn to sew with knits’ time and this has morphed into a ‘learn to make patterns with knits’ too!  My first step was to find out from the experts.

Sewing with Knits

I am in the process of watching Craftsy’s class on Sewing with Knits by Meg McElwee of Sew Liberated. It’s a great introduction in sewing with knits or stretch fabric without the need for an overlocker/serger.  Which is great for me since I don’t have one…yet. (This foray into stretch fabrics makes me want an overlocker even more!).  And the class comes with 5 print off patterns.

I have only watched the first 3 classes but already I’ve learnt about the different types of knits, different amounts of stretchiness, the tools I should be using (I need a ‘walking foot’…who knew?!) and the stitches that work well.  The first class project is a hoodie but it’s way too hot in Sydney for that right now so I might jump to the T-shirt or dress while we still have summer days.


My little Elna Lotus tsp (a great little machine but I do probably over work her!), seems to do ok on a four-way stretch fabric with a stretch needle (75/11) and a narrow zig zag (not much zig and zag).  This gives a seam that stretches with the fabric but without making the seam look like it’s pulling too much.


Another new piece of information is about stabilising shoulder seams using clear elastic. Brilliant!  You just sew it into the seam. (Or so I’m lead to believe). I got a piece of this from my pattern teacher but I’ll have to find out where to get it.  Anyone know where to source clear elastic in Sydney or online?


Stretch patterns

And just because I like to take the bull by the horns, I thought now would be a good time to learn about making stretch patterns. For this I went to the very talented Anita of Studio Faro whose basic pattern making classes have put me on the right path for some of my amateur design endeavours. The class is a two part class with last week focusing on developing a custom stretch block with necessary alterations to make it just right.


As suspected my waist line needs to go down by about 3cm to accommodate my long body – remember to alter your pattern at a horizontal line between bust and waist not at the waist. Some of the other women in the class needed to add darts into their blocks to get a better fit over the bust. We were assured that this was only for the block and any future design would incorporate the dart in a creative, non-darty, feature.  We also added a pseudo dart beneath the bust point that will be used later for design purposes.

Sent home with our newly made, personalised stretch block patterns and a piece of clear elastic, I set about constructing a toile for fitting at tomorrow’s class.  You will notice that I haven’t finished off the neck, sleeve and hem lines as this is a toile. If the fit is good, I’ll try clean it up for public appearances.


The back looks good and the fit feels good


Shoulder is nice and snug but not too droopy – I think the stabilising helps. The sleeves are fine – I actually had to make the sleeves a bit shorter because I ran out of fabric but they are already long enough so I’ll just have to remember that the pattern has long sleeves that need to be checked depending on the desired look.


The front fit feels good and generally looks good although at some angles it looks like it’s pulling funny off the bust point.  I don’t know if it’s just the way it’s hanging or if there’s something I’m missing in my pattern block. I guess all will be revealed tomorrow.

Thanks for joining me and let me know if you have any comments or experience with sewing or pattern making with knits.

Fairy Godmother Fabric Stash Raid

In August last year, my husband and I got to visit San Francisco and Sonoma Valley for a friend’s wedding, meeting up with some great people and a bit of R ‘n R after a rough July. While in SF, we stayed with my wonderfully energetic godmother and her family. We talked big plans, great designs and of course sewing!

My ‘fairy godmother’ is in the process of downsizing her fabric stash so, of course, I had to raid it and take advantage of the beautiful, silky fabrics that she has stored up over the years.  Oh the colours! And the textures… A bit of Liberty cotton, some cheapo colourful satins and some gorgeous high-end fabrics that I would never consider buying.


So I ended up leaving San Fransciso with a bag that was distinctly bulging with yet-to-be-made clothes!

I love this one:


And of course this one (which you would’ve seen as a final product):


You would think that a girl would have had her fill with all these gorgeous bits, but my fabric appetite seemed insatiable.  So we also hit the beautiful little fabric store, Satin Moon, and its neighbour store on Clement St to add these fun ones the collection.