Yup, I made that!
Do you find that there are some clothes in your wardrobe that you want to wear all the time? I do, and usually from the same couple of companies too. They make the sort of comfortable tops and tunics that I like to wear over jeans and leggings and my drawers are full of them!
Being me, though, I have wondered if I could make these for myself. Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m not super-confident about dressmaking although I have made some clothes over the years, so it’s no wonder that I kept putting it off and knitting new pairs of socks instead because they turn out just fine. It’s all about confidence, as I so often tell people who are just starting out on their sock-knitting adventures, but for me there’s always that worry with sewing that once I’ve cut the fabric there’s no going back …
Then a solution dropped into my inbox inside The Make and Do Studio’s newsletter, and I booked myself onto the new “How to sew with stretch fabric” workshops that Maeri (who owns the studio) had just added. Hooray! The workshops run over two 3 1/2 hour sessions which is a good length of time to get something done – in this case, make a t-shirt – but not long enough for learners’ fatigue to set in. You don’t need to be losing your concentration with pins and sharp scissors in your hands!
I love going to workshops at The Make and Do Studio. The studio is at the back of Maeri’s house and you need to walk through her kitchen to get there; she’s invariably been baking tasty treats for a mid-morning snack which smell wonderful (chocolate brownies the first session – she had to put them away before I ate them all because nobody else wanted any!) and the studio itself is a well-equipped craft room with plenty of space for cutting and sewing on the big table in the middle of the room. Around the walls are tape measures and pattern pieces hanging from hooks, shelves with reels of cotton and pots of scissors and accessories on them, bolts of fabric, sewing machines … there’s a feeling of calm and confidence as soon as you walk through the door and that is just what any beginner needs.
I don’t tend to consider myself a beginner sewer (sewist? That might be better, the other word could be mistaken for a smelly drain!) as I do know my way around a pattern and a sewing machine, but it’s that fear of doing something irretrievably wrong with the scissors that I find hard to shake. Maeri, who has been brought up in a family where sewing is just part of life, is fearless; she is as comfortable around fabric as I am with yarn and that is very comforting!
The first part of the workshop was based around knit (or stretch) fabrics and what they look like, what they feel like and which ones are better for beginners. We were each able to choose a piece of fabric to work with which Maeri had already cut to the right length and pre-washed (and there is one clue as to why my sewing never works as well as it might – I don’t always wash my fabric first but launch straight in), and were given some freezer paper to create our patterns with. Freezer paper? I was as baffled as you (unless you already know about this stuff) but it turns out that this rather nifty paper is excellent for making patterns with as you can iron it onto your fabric and it sticks there whilst you cut it out. Who knew?!
We started by tracing our pattern pieces which were blu-tacked to the window. That’s not something I’ve ever done either but it made it surprisingly easy, and it was very sociable for the four of us in the class to be taking it in turns at the windows too!
That was pretty much all we did in our first session and we had homework of cutting out our pattern pieces ready to sew them together in the second session. I felt like an expert as I ironed my pieces onto the fabric, adjusted the length of some of them as Maeri had suggested, and cut them out without any trouble at all. In fact, this time I was supremely confident: “If I go wrong, Maeri will be able to fix it for me”. It was like being attached to a safety line whilst you climb a rock face!
At the next session, there were just two of the four of us original attendees as the two other ladies couldn’t make it – so we made full use of the space! We were each given a packet of ball-point sewing needles for our machines (there are machines to borrow, but the idea of taking your own to sew with is an inspired move as you are working with something familiar) so that we didn’t cut the fabric with the needle, and you can see in this picture that there was something else that was new for me.
Clips instead of pins! Maeri much prefers to use these clips these days as she finds it much easier to position and re-position them. I have to say that I wasn’t convinced, but that’s probably that confidence thing again. I had my seams pinned with more pins that I thought were possible to get in one seam but at least I knew it wasn’t going to move!
The green tape is another trick of Maeri’s to make sure that you get the right seam allowance. The best thing about stretch fabric is that it doesn’t fray so you don’t need to treat the seams in the same way as you would with cotton, for example, and my sewing machine has a stretch stitch option so I chose to use that rather than borrow Maeri’s overlocker which was another possibility. It’s great to be able to learn somewhere where all the kit you might need is on hand, and the person running the workshop has first-hand knowledge of how it all works and what would be a good buy for anyone wanting to add to their own sewing kit.
I finished more of my t-shirt than I expected to during the workshop, and went home with only the neck topstitching and the hems to do. I was very pleased with myself! And then, once I was home, the t-shirt sat in a bag for weeks until I was due to meet up with Maeri for a brew. Cue some frantic sewing!
If I’m honest, I’d put off doing the hems because I often find with cotton fabrics that they don’t lie flat, especially if the hem is curved, but with the stretch material it was much easier. I could have done this so much sooner! But in very little time at all, it was done and I was able to show it off when I met Maeri the next day.
And here it is! Although I’m very pleased with the topstitching around the neck, something isn’t quite right – I must have pulled the fabric whilst I was sewing it …
but as I’ll probably be wearing it like this with a scarf then nobody will know except for you and me – and I know you won’t tell 🙂
(Ha! We were on our way out for lunch and that’s a “hurry up and take the photo” face!)
I spend a lot of time learning things online – from my Open University Master’s Degree research a couple of years ago to day to day stuff (YouTube has taught me all kinds of things from computer fixes to repairing radiators and that’s before I start on the knitting skills I’ve picked up!) – but it’s a wonderful experience to be able to go to a workshop to learn something new, so if you have somewhere local that runs them, then take it with both hands – it could even be a New Year’s Resolution, perhaps. You can learn as much from the conversations as you can from the course notes, and there might even be cake which is always nicer if it’s shared 🙂