Monday, 23 April 2018

The Overlock League (Part 1) - Time Trials

One of my main reasons for getting the overlocker was to speed up some aspects of my sewing. So I thought I'd test this theory out.

Take my standard capri leggings pattern, in identical fabrics (but different colourways), elastic and blue ribbons, one Janome 7025 (or Janome 525s if you don't shop at John Lewis) and one Janome 9300dx.

Sewing Machine Workflow

  1. Fold hem up once, zig zag and trim
  2. Sew inseams using a zig zag
  3. Trim inseams, change foot (to overedge foot) and set machine to stitch G (an overcasting stitch), stretch setting. Finish inseam edges.
  4. Change foot (to normal foot), return to zig zag stitch and sew the crotch seam (replace the bobbin as it has just run out)
  5. Trim crotch seam, change foot (to overedge foot), use stretch overedge stitch G to finish crotch seam
  6. Change foot (to normal foot), fold down the waist once to create a casing and zigzag into place. Leave a gap to feed elastic, trim edges.
  7. Feed elastic through casing using an elaborate system of safety pins.
  8. Join elastic edges using a zig zag stitch
  9. Close casing using zig zag stitch. Trim.

Done. 32 minutes.

Overlocker Workflow

  1. Unthread right needle
  2. Fold hem up once and sew a "ladders up" flatlock hem. Tug into position.
  3. Rethread right needle
  4. Sew inseam
  5. Sew crotch seam
  6. Join elastic ends
  7. Attach elastic to inside of top edge
  8. Unthread right needle. Fold waistband down again and sew a "loops up" flatlock from the right side. 
  9. Tuck in thread chains using a chenille needle. 

Done. 37 minutes.

Initial Thoughts


That wasn't the plan. I had such high hopes.


So I guess I've disproved myself?

This was surprisingly fast for my sewing machine workflow. I think I've optimised the process so much that everything is autopilot, even if it is very fiddly in places. I switch back and forth between stitches several times and trim seams by hand before finishing the edges. In the past I've cut open the fabric by accident, and forgotten to reset my stitching which has caused the need to to smash into the foot or the plate below. It's also very thread-heavy so I've included the time it took to change the bobbin. On other projects I'll often be changing the bobbin, rewinding it and maybe even replacing the spool thread. On this race I also made sure that the casing was wide enough for the elastic - generally I eyeball it - and sometimes get it wrong - and feeding it through can get very tedious if the casing is slightly too small.

The overlocker result being slower was a big upset. Plus, the quality is lower than the sewing machine standard. You've got the XL photos at the top of this post so you can see the dodgy stitching. So I'm keen to reflect on what has happened here.

Firstly, I think I got arrogant and impatient. Just before starting the race I realised that I didn't remember how to sew a flatlock. While I did look it up outside of the timekeeping, I didn't practice it. My steps are not quite in the right order. I think sewing the hems in the round works better here compared to hemming when flat. I unthreaded and rethreaded a needle twice and I included the time to fix it when I had threaded it incorrectly.

At 22:44.7 (Lap 1 time) I'd finished a "ladders-up" flatlock on the waistband and technically the leggings were done. A lot like The Omelette Challenge, this could have counted if we're only talking about racing. Except, I spent the next 14 mins and 31 seconds unpicking and resewing! I mean, they at least have to be wearable. And they barely achieve that standard now.

The same pattern, the same notions, the same size, same finishing. Different machines, different workflows. Optimising for speed only, the overlocker wins on a lower-quality result. The sewing machine is slower but gave me a better result. Or: the sewing machine is faster to achieve a particular quality standard.

If we consider a "fair" contest as what I can do on autopilot, then I have a lot of practice ahead of me on the overlocker. If we consider that I've made dozens of knit garments on the sewing machine, and still only a handful on the overlocker maybe it's not fair to blame the equipment entirely. Revising flatlocks and practicing before the time trial would have worked in favour of the overlocker. But I don't really need to practice in the same way for the sewing machine. Would it have been more fair? It would (almost certainly) have changed the result, and given me the result I wanted to see.


Human error. More practice needed. Maybe I'll do another of these for a different item in a few months. Any requests?


Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Burying the hatchet: Why I got an overlocker

But you've always claimed to hate overlockers. Why did you get one?

True. And I still hate the idea of upselling a tool to someone who won't make good use of it. I hate the promise that an overlocker will make your projects have a magically "professional finish" and that they're the only way to sew with knits. Those things still aren't true, it's still all down to the maker. And I've made some great finishes on the past on my machine alone. 

But I need some speed. Buying an overlocker has bought me time. Making jogging bottoms in December was so painfully slow on the machine. I used the stretch overcasting stitch to tidy the edges and it took 30+ mins to finish the leg seams. That's only only finishing the raw edges and doesn't include the time to zig zag the seams together and manually trim all the excess. Time was at a premium and this made me want to scream. With an overlocker it'd be one pass for each seam instead of 3 slower ones.

As my stash (and the queue) has grown recently, I've bought into the idea of time saving.  Buying an overlocker has meant hat instead of looking at the pile and being daunted by the amount of time it'll take to sew, I can jump at it with a level of excitement.

And I can choose which projects to invest time in. I'm still a sucker for a pretty french or flat-felled seam. I still love a good bit of topstitching and I still love bindings, facings and pinking. So they're not going away.

What did you get? (And why?)

Janome 9300dx

My Janome 7025 (or 525 in disguise) has been a great workhorse so I looked for something similar. For a while I struggled to find anything I liked the look of under £450. I don't really have £450 to spend. So when this one popped up at £230, I was keen.

Speed and simplicity were the top priorities for me, and this one offers 1400 stitches per minute (apparently my normal machine maxes at 800 stitches per min). I found a trusted stockist and it arrived within a couple of days.

So how are you getting on?

After our first couple of days together I had already:
  • Rethreaded it a couple of times
  • Accidentally unthreaded it
  • Caught a pin in the knife
  • Broken a needle
  • Completed 8 garments in under a week
I've used a couple of pages online to get up to speed in a couple of techniques (Sergerpepper's guide to's page on flatlocking) and am going to try to refine things as the initial excitement dies down.

Currently the plan is to shift (almost) all knits to the overlocker, so that's my focus for the moment.

One of my main difficulties with using the machine is that there is no free arm. I'm so used to it that I'm not sure how to sew on the inside of cylinders anymore! 

Stay tuned


Friday, 2 February 2018

Welcome to 2018

The start of the new year gave me an opportunity to do a bit of stock-taking in my little world of makery. I'm not even speaking metaphorically, I did literal stock take while trying to clear up the conservatory. You see, with the flurry of Christmas sewing and fabric acquisition, things had gotten a little chaotic and I needed to get back on top of things.

And all of December's activities finally gave me the kick I needed to bring a new crew member on board...

Hello sailor...

Anyway, while I'm still excited for the year ahead (and before anything new can truly start), I'll try to put a bit of a lid on 2017. Now is no time to be self-effacing, it's time to review 2017 with confidence.

The Year of Doing Things Properly: Sewing

If you want some background on 2017's theme, you can read the original post here. As time went on I began to realise that some people would probably call this a form of mindfulness or potentially even ACT, so maybe it wasn't all hooey.

This theme gave me just the right balance of motivation to do things well and discipline to stop myself striving for daft perfection. I again took on a few commissions (silk dresses, eek!) (merch, eek!), and offered some gifts (quilts, bags, clothing) but ended up with some stuff staying with me: a fabulous fancy coat, some salvaged wrecks, comfy staple tops and loud trousers. And for the most part, I really love the results.

I started working more on hand sewing, and have found my groove with a few stitches. I did my first hand-sewn buttonholes some real embroidery. It's a long uphill climb though, there is a lot of practice ahead. I'm still struggling to find the right needles, having spent a long time wondering why everything was so difficult with the tapestry needles(hint: they're blunt). I also did some cool applique, tried a bunch of quilting techniques (argh!), revamped how to sew a zip fly and scratch-drafted men's patterns.

I finally built a workstation, with great natural light and a radio. I can shut a door behind me and it feels separated (even though it isn't) so I'm not camping out on our dining table (which is also where the computers are).

I've been visiting Misan's Clearance Basement of Wonder less for fabric, profiting more from the opening of Misan West and Goldbrick Fabrics on Goldhawk Road. Misan West often hits the mark when I have a vague idea of what I'm looking for, whereas Goldbrick Fabrics has a swatch system which makes it very easy to look for something really specific. Though I still have a soft spot for the Basement of Wonder, it's not so convenient for some of what I've been looking for recently. I can't wait to return for some suitings. That being said, I visited an Abakhan store for the first time recently. Boy, that's a dangerous shop for sure. For notions I've relied mainly on Jaycott's, William Gee and MacCulloch & Wallis depending on urgency, known quality and quantities required.

My "Sewing Financial Year" rolls over on 1 Oct, I'm both ashamed and proud to say that I spent nearly as much money in the months Oct-Dec 2017 as I did in the months Jan-Sept 2017. The vast bulk of the latter amount was in August, which was mostly buying supplies for commissions (and so those costs were recovered anyway). I think I splurge in the months Nov-Jan and again in May and July or Aug, this seems to have happened for as long as I've been tracking my sewing costs. So, I think I can time my productivity and my spending to work well together.

What about outside of sewing?

In terms of other makery, I did some laser cutting in the form of sock blockers, reindeer and tap merch but haven't been near a hackspace in several months. (Unfortunately!)

I got some project management qualifications, bought a raclette grill, modeled for the photography club, babysat some degus, started learning to drive, went on a surprise trip to Portugal, rediscovered some friendships through chance encounters, got engaged, discovered #makershour, finally got to try liquid nitrogen ice cream, learnt to use so many new digital tools, and jumped headfirst into caring for our new garden plants. 2017 was also my first dance out with Gog Magog Molly, which I only count as significant because I haven't actually "performed" anything in years. My mental health took a beating throughout the year (my measure of a successful day at work during the summer was managing to not cry) and I got run down with some viruses during the autumn. Suddenly the notion of "doing things properly" turned into "doing nothing, but doing it properly" and trying to practice "looking after oneself properly".

Things I've learnt in 2017:
  • Don't superglue things without putting a temporary surface down first. You will pull up the veneer on your table
  • Actually, just don't use superglue. Find a new adhesive.
  • Don't sew in the car,especially when you're a navigator
  • Supermarket vegetable containers make good project trays (mushrooms, asparagus, baby corn, berries)
  • Bees love lavender
  • Strawberry runners need to start growing "knees" before they're willing to be pinned down to be propagated.
I've had a (hopefully secret) difficult relationship with this blog throughout 2017. I've only really managed one post a month but they have at least all been about sewing and generally about more than one project. I feel that the blog name no longer feels comfortable which may be the subject of a pending draft on the theme of signatures. I also had a difficult time writing a lot of the posts, the drafting process was saddening and the projects felt worthless. Which is weird, because now when I read them they look perfectly benign. But maybe everything at the time felt saddening and worthless. In any case, hopefully this corner of the internet will continue to evolve into something comfortable.

And, looking outwards (as opposed to introspection). One of the most interesting things I've noticed in 2017 has been urban change and gentrification. The contrast seems very arresting when you consider the local tower block fires. The area is going through massive regeneration, and the group White Noise has been talking about it.  Because you came here to read about sewing, I'm also going to recommend their piece on Shepherd's Bush Market.

2017 also saw the beginning of my small-scale campaign to get One Blackfriars renamed as The Bust. I don't care if the architect thinks it looks like a very specific vase. Millions of mannequins will argue otherwise. It's a giant bust.

Announcing: The Year of "just because"

Here's the thing: I consider myself to be pretty resilient. But it's good for the soul to have things to look forward to. Perhaps, as an insurance against the next time things get rough, I want to nurture my own sense of enthusiasm. Or at least, feel free to be passionate, or excited or indulgent.

So am I committing in January to continue overcommitting to for the whole year? It's not like that. I will continue to (occasionally) overcommit, and I will continue to (occasionally) get burnt out. Go big or stay at home. So they say. But I want to make it easy to treat myself, especially when it's needed. After all, it's supposed to be fun.

Much like last year, what does this mean in practice?

  • Making fancy things! Just because. I didn't make a pretty dress at all for myself in 2017 and the late months were filled with utilitarian garments or refashions.
  • Fun and/or dumb things. Just because. I have an idea to time-trial the overlocker against my sewing machine workflow and tell you all about the results. 
  • Excitement and joy. Just because. Yes, chores will always be there. But to me sewing is about imagining and producing the extraordinary. 
  • Achievement and confidence. Just because. To paraphrase something I was told recently, it's difficult to project external confidence without appearing arrogant. I have been sewing enough that I should know that good results are not a fluke anymore. And as for my makes "out in the wild", I'm not good at controlling how I dress, but I can control what comes out from under the presser foot.

Snoop My Stash

Since you made it this far...I've got a treat for you.

New year, freshly organised stash:


Friday, 26 January 2018

Simplicity 2358 Messenger Bag

Hopefully my last post about 2017 projects. Coming soon: a roundup and setting the scene for 2018.

The D9P quilt for Christmas had some deep meanings rooted in musical cross-phrasing and cubist fantasies...but I really can't bear to talk about quilting anymore. Instead, we move on to something a lot more superficial: a messenger bag. The one I forgot to photograph before my Christmas post.


You remember the bag I made for B back in 2013? That one has been so well used and abused that it has gone through a few rounds of repairs and finally needed replacing. So, that was my mission for Christmas gift sewing.

A handmade cross-body bag hanging from a mannequin

The Pattern

This is my 4th variation on Simplicity 2358. It's a good pattern and produces a good-size bag but I always spend a lot of mental energy trying to re-familiarise myself with the pattern pieces. As a garment sewer, being presented with a bunch of rectangles with similar names is not my idea of an easy time.

I generally add pockets to suit.

My one major gripe with the pattern is that the final construction steps lead to very bulky joints where the flap and the body of the bag meet, and there doesn't seem to be enough fabric to cover the gap at the inside of the flap. The next time I make this bag, I'll try to make the flap facing longer for a better finish. Otherwise, I think it's a great base pattern for a bag which you can customise.

The same handmade bag, with strap, leather patches and metal rings

The Fabric

The outer is some sort of herringbone, picked up from A-One Fabrics on Goldhawk Road. B picked it out himself, and while I do like it, I do have a couple of reservations. Firstly, I can't gauge its longevity. I've improved the quality of the interfacing (my go-to from M&W) and have also made improvements to the heavily stressed areas. So we'll see how it holds up. My second reservation about the fabric is that it makes my eyes jump. So cutting out was literally a headache.

I tried to salvage parts of the original bag to give it a sense of continuity. The lining is salvaged from the original, and I've used some of the original straps on each of the sides. The leather came from my stash. I trialed all my leathers and this one came out nicest with the available threads.

The strap and buckle are from MacCulloch & Wallis, I just fell in love with them so will admit that I paid a shamefully high price for them. The D-rings and sliders were from B's stash (souvenirs he brought back from South America a few years ago). I really struggle to find fixings for bags, especially ones that fit the slightly chunkier webbing styles. If you know a good supplier, let me know!


Oh, I don't know anymore. The machine struggled in a few areas and it becomes a pain to maneuver. I ended up hand-finishing a couple of spots. That's about it really.


Friday, 19 January 2018

Chores #3 (The queue never gets any shorter)

I'm still clearing out blog drafts and projects from 2017, so here's a new one for you.

You may have gathered that I've been attacking my stash and "to do" pile with some gusto. My attention has been really focused on what I could do now because all of the bits and bobs are in stock. I'm making an effort to avoid the projects that need me to buy things in.

So 3x makes for you today which have taken a small load off my mind.

Wiksten Tova

I think this is a dark green cheesecloth. I dug it out of a discount bin in Stockholm in 2014. I had just made my first version of the Wiksten Tova and was keen to find a suitable fabric for another. I'ts a really easy top to wear and I can understand why it has been so popular. Again, I added a back yoke for a bit of interest.

Front of a blouse on a mannequin

Back of a blouse on a mannequin

Slim Blue Cardigan

I had a bunch of fabric left over after my nike hoodie and had been pining for a cardi for a while. This is drafted from scratch based on Winnie Aldrich's blocks. Yes, it is very slim, but it's easy to wear.

Cardigan on a mannequin

Sweater Vest

An attempt to finish off this fabric. Using a different block from Mertic Pattern Cutting. Honestly, I'm not sure why I made this, I didn't want it, I just wanted to be rid of the fabric. But I use it a bit, so it works.

Front of a sleeveless jumper

Back of a sleeveless jumper

So there you go. Three more werable things. I don't know yet how this fits in with The Year of Doing Things Properly. Maybe it's something to do with doing one's chores.


Monday, 8 January 2018

The Last of the moomins (How much value can you get from a €4 pair of jeans?)

You know I said that more trousers were overdue? Here you go!

Front of corduroy trousers

Back of Corduroy Trousers


I try to live in jeans or trousers and have been slowly wearing down my supply of casual trousers. With my purple jeans out of action I'm at a bit of a loose end, especially for cosy trousers and ones which don't require a belt. So bulking up this supply is the order of the day.

The Pattern

The pattern is traced from my €4 Helsinki jeans. You can read the whole saga of pattern development in my 2015 posts. I was pretty confident this would work, especially having tested the first 3 pairs extensively.

A couple of things for me to remember for future:

  • These are very low rise in the front and I may try out a double-height waistband
  • A longer/taller fly gvuard would be useful as the pattern piece is very short
  • I marked a foldline on my pocket piece - which was a very nice surprise from past-Katrina. It made current-Katrina's life a lot easier!

A side point is that I've noticed that a lot of RTW jeans have waistbands which are cut as one piece. The formal trousers I've sewn all have multiple pieces to the waistband (generally 3, sometimes 4). Is the fact that lots of jeans have the front on some sort of bias the main reason why they're so comfy? Or is it the main reason they fall down after a while?

The Fabric

One of my oldest fabrics paired with one my newest fabrics. The needlecord came from Edinburgh Fabrics (Aug 2017) and the pocket linings are the very last of my beloved Moomin fabric (Dec 2010). They go together so well!


Fairly standard construction, I tried to pay attention to fabric nap and had a few struggles trying to turn corners. Otherwise I didn't give it any special treatment. There are a couple of interesting things of note:

  • I've tried to adopt the *new method* to insert a zip fly, where the fly guard is added after the topstitching, it saves a few headaches and I really like the order.
  • I was a bit lazy with waistband finishing because I wanted these to be ready to take on holiday, so it's "good enough" rather than "perfect"
  • I added buttonhole elastic to the waistband just in case things didn't work out.

So there you go, my new super-comfy, super-soft, super-strokeable cords!


Monday, 25 December 2017

The 12 Days of Christmas

A carol about over-committing on handmade gifts. Again.

12 Gift Stashbusted

I had a plan for some lovely gifts using what I had to hand. Naturally, what I have to hand is pretty good quality (never offer something to someone that you wouldn't have yourself). I was frugal, using scraps of precious fabric from many endeavours.

11 Warm Things Warming

Five traditional hot water bottles and six Hotties Microwaveable Pads with covers. I used a bunch of techniques here including regular quilting, quilt as you go, applique, fabric slashing and a variation on scrap lace. I really like how each of these came out - especially the slashed ones. You never know how they'll turn out but hopefully I'm getting better with this technique.

10 Legs A-Lounging

Four pairs of jogging bottoms (using Burda 04/2016 #138 or #139 and Burda 11/2012 #135) and one pair of sparkly pyjamas (using a draft from Metric Pattern Cutting for Menswear). All have pockets, naturally.

All the edges on the joggers are overcast with my machine, though it was painfully slow. I am beginning to consider getting myself an overlocker to speed up these kinds of projects.

9 Patches Disappearing

A long-ago promised quilt for my grandparents. The block is a Disappearing Nine Patch and it becomes wonderfully wonky the further you stray from the top left corner. This was entirely scrap/stashbusted and holds many dear bits of fabric from my entire sewing career (can you call it a career?). Without my grandparents, I wouldn't own a sewing machine so this seemed a nice way to give back in-kind.

8 Weeks of Fretting

I started the quilt really early, and finished it in good time. The warm things made steady progress and I utilised my stash or my scraps pile for all of the necessary stuff. A friend's specialist baby gift wasn't going to happen before Xmas, as the fabric was a pre-order from Z&Q, so it seemed like it wouldn't bother me for a while (and that I had freed up some sewing time). But then I began to worry that since I had a manageable workload, and was keeping up with it, that it wasn't actually enough or good enough. So my brain got me to brainstorm and plan 11 new projects to complete.

Thanks brain!

But what happened next?

7 Rounds of Laundry

I fell off the wagon. And bought a lot of new fabric for the 11 new projects. Blame Misan West and Goldbrick Fabrics  on Goldhawk Road.

And all of this needed pre-washing in secret:

(which is difficult when you're trying to hide this massive pile of fabric from B so he doesn't know how much you actually bought)

6 Things Queue Cutting

The loungewear was also the first set of items on this list of extra gift sewing. You may be able to see some of the fabrics used in the pile of the photo above. So, ahead of all my other projects, these jumped to the top of the queue to be ready in time for the Big Day.

5 Stalled Plans

I made a list of  11 extra Christmas gift projects, right? Five of them never event got started. Oh well.

4 Corners Mitred

 I really love mitreing corners.

3 Stolen Fixings

This one I forgot to get a photo of before wrapping. But I made a Messenger Bag again!

I have horrible difficulty finding nice bag fixings for my projects. I ended up stealing a slider and 2 D-rings from B for this he picked up some nice ones on holiday a few years ago.

In progress shot since I forgot to get a picture of the finished thing.

2 Miles of Thread

I've finished up a lot of spools doing all of this...

And a Workout for the Sewing Machine

Excuse me while we both rest...

K x