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The Dress with a Twist

Have you ever ordered something and then waited so impatiently that you bit your nails of? Well waiting for my latest parcel from Minerva Craft practically ruined my nails. :)  I got a chance to review the Lady McElroy Viscose Knit Fabric in Turquoise and was thrilled for the opportunity. The fabric had all I wanted for a new dress: It was in bright, vibrant colours, the material was a viscose (yey!) and it was a knit. I was in the mood for a challenge and I haven’t tackled knits in a while.

I’ve made a few garments for my kids, beanies and t-shirts, from knits the last couple of years but before that, the last time I made something in jersey was probably 1998. So when reading this blogpost keep in mind that knits aren’t my strongest side.

And let me tell you, I have never worked in a material like this one. The fabric was beautiful, soft, slinky, bouncy, and had a good amount of stretch (two ways). When the fabric arrived I noticed how incredible soft it was but not before I'd finished drooling over the vibrant colours.

I’d decided to make 7429 from the McCall’s Pattern Company. I have seen some fantastic makes on Instagram from that pattern and I thought that the knot design in the front was a great feature and hoped the design would hug me in the right places.

The first problem occurred after washing, since I forgot to put softener in. Don’t do that! The subsequent problems with static electricity gave me some headaches in the beginning. Other than that the fabric behaved just as it should. No colour changes or shrinkage at all.

The fabric behaved like soft knits do, so I had to take some extra time laying it out for cutting. And I had to take a break from laying after the front pattern piece turned out like this:

Could I really pull this off?

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the fabric was to pin and stitch. I only had one problem, where I had to get out my seam ripper, and that was when I tried to pin the fabric with about 6 cm between my pins. Yes, I told you I´m a rookie.

If you are a newbie to this kind of drapey knits, here are a few tips:

1.      Pin, pin and then pin some more pins between your existing ones. If you do, the fabric will (almost) behave as a woven fabric.

2.      Check your stitches on a piece of fabric before stitching into the real thing. (I know that you should always do this, but sometimes I just wing it on woven materials.) This is not a fabric you want to overuse your seam ripper on. I went for a little longer stitch than I usually use to get a nice finish. You don’t want curly seams!

3.      The pattern instructs you to do the hemming in two steps. First baste and then stitch a normal stitch. I would recommend using a twin-needle instead. You get a nicer hem that stretches a little more.

4.      The inside seams I put together with the narrowest zigzag stitch instead of a regular one as it gives you a little stretch. I then overlocked the raw edges approx. 5 mm from the zigzag seam. I´m not sure I really needed to do the zigzag stitch at all, but the instructions clearly stated that it should both be a normal stitch and an overlocked one (and being a knits rookie, I didn’t feel comfortable straying too far from the instructions).

5.      The knotted part on the front of the dress was a little tricky, but not as much as I anticipated. I followed the pictures and instructions of the manual included in the pattern envelope and managed to pull it off without the use of my seam ripper.

This was a fantastic make for me, I really put myself out there and learned a lot in the process. I haven’t done anything like this before, pattern or fabric wise, and I really love the result.

I’ve used my new dress a lot already. As you can see in my pictures, I've tried styling it in different ways. I can truly recommend this fabric, it has fantastic qualities and just LOOK at it! :) 

I would recommend that you have some experience in dressmaking before making this combo of fabric/pattern, but I think the drapey fabric really features the front of the dress nicely.

Thank you for reading!

Malin from ByGousheh

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A Few Stitches Can Turn A Scrap Of Fabric Into...

A crafter but not a stitcher? Please, read on. This little gadget could work in your tool box too.
With the impact of a handmade garment, or quilt, or curtains, or toy, all containing hundreds, if not thousands, of stitches, it’s easy to forget that just a few stitches can turn a scrap of fabric into an item too.
I’ve been lucky enough to review this Clover Kanzashi Flower Maker for Minerva. It is a template form of a traditional Japanese craft of fabric folding to create petals and flowers to adorn kanzashi hair decorations.
There are several petal shapes, which all come in several sizes; extra small, small, and large.
I have the extra small round petal maker. It is a plastic hinged template, with numbered holes and slits. It looks complicated, but isn’t at all. I’ve shown my 5 year old how to use it, and he is thrilled with the flower he made. 
Each template requires a certain size and number of fabric squares; the extra small round petal needs six squares 2.5”. Yes, perfect for that jelly roll strip you’re not sure what to do with!
The instructions give fabric guidelines, and types to avoid. Most of my scraps are cotton, but I wanted to try some different fabrics too, so treated myself to a Scrap Bag of Fabric from Minerva. 
What a bargain! Look at all this fabric! 
Obviously each bag has a different selection in, but this should give you a rough idea of the amount of fabric you get. There were some great pieces in this bag to use for petals.
I also bought a bag of Yellow Buttons. Isn’t this a great selection? 
I like the variety of ‘yellow/orange’, and the range of buttons. 
The template is only embossed on the outer side. It is marked with a little graphic of the end flower, the end size, numbers, and start and finish. 
One of the things I like about the template is how portable it is. I wanted to test this, so cut a selection of squares, and took them, the template, the bag of buttons, and my sewing tin, on holiday.
My sewing tin used to contain biscuits, and I thought it was a cute hinged tin, so it now holds my most used hand sewing tools. I didn’t need all of them on holiday, so there was plenty of room for everything to fit in my tin, so thumbs up for compactness.
I love being outside, so this holiday, instead of my book, or my tech, I sat out and sewed. Luckily it wasn’t too windy; that would have changed plans! This was my workspace. 
The first fabric I used was this cheerful checked cotton. 
I used white cotton, but it doesn’t matter what colour you use, as the stitching isn’t visible from the front. The same thread is used for all six petals, and the suggested 75 cm is ample for the petals, and the button too. You might want to use a colour to match or contrast with the button, as you can use the same thread all the way through. I used a double thread to add a bit of extra strength.
Place the template wrong side down on the right side of the fabric. It should sit on the diagonal, so when you close the template with the fabric trapped inside, it makes a triangle. You could also pre-fold the fabric and slide it into the part open template. I tried both ways, and it works either way, as long as the fabric sits right into the hinge of the template. 
Holding the template securely, trim the excess fabric away. I had forgotten to take my small fabric scissors, so used the embroidery scissors from my sewing tin. They were great for a small area.
Once trimmed, make sure the ‘start’ side of the upright template is facing you. 
The easiest way to think about this is as a dot to dot. The needle goes in through ‘start’, so the knot is on that side. On the other side, the needle should pass through hole number 2, and come out back on the ‘start’ side. Continue like this until ‘finish’, but don’t tie a knot or cut the thread; this is the first petal, and the same thread will link it to the second petal, and so on.
Open up the template and remove the petal. 
Gently pull on the thread to gather the fabric, and a petal will appear. Don’t trim the thread! 
Petal two is formed exactly the same way, but you use the same thread as petal one, so they’re immediately connected. Once the template is opened, slide the petal up to petal one, and gather the fabric for petal two. 
Continue this way until you’ve made sufficient petals; this template is a six petal flower, but depending on fabric, you can add a few more to change the look. 
Using the thread, I secured the petals together, selected a button, and stitched that to the front. Then I secured the thread at the back, and cut it.
There is a quick and attractive flower. The whole process, including choosing a button, took less than 30 minutes.
I made flowers with a range of fabrics to see how easy they were to use, and what, if any, difference it would make to the flower. 
My least favourite was the white organza type fabric. It was a bit fiddly to use, and the sheerness of the fabric didn’t really show. I think this would benefit from a larger template, and it’s something I will try, because I thought it would be a lovely delicate flower.
This is cotton with glitter decoration, and it’s stiffer than quilting cotton, so I wasn’t sure how easily it would form into petals, but the slight rigidity actually made the petals look more defined. 
The glitter hasn’t photographed very well, but works well on the petals, and the flower looks quite celebratory. 
This is a stretchy velvet, and I love the flower it became. 
It’s such a rich, eye catching flower, and you can see how the different buttons give it a different look. 
It’s worth trying different buttons, because they really do change the look of the end product. Be mindful of the size of the flower when choosing a button; too big will look odd, and too small won’t cover the centre join. 
I hope I’ve not made this sound complicated, because it isn’t. 
It’s a simple and quick activity that’s a great way of utilising odds and ends of fabric, and stray buttons. You could even use beads in place of buttons. You don’t even need to add the buttons at the time of making; secure the flower threads, and store it until you’re button ready.
It’s an activity that can travel with you, with a bit of forward planning. It’s sewing that can be done in front of the television, in your lunch hour, on the bus...
The flowers were originally made to decorate hair, and they would look really cute as clips, on hair bands, on buns, or even pigtails.
They could be used to decorate hats, clothes, bags, cushions, serviette rings... I’m sure you can think of a few more! A brooch to match your dress? A necklace?
If you’re a scrapbooker or card maker, these would make lovely 3D adornments.
Instead of using a shirt to make a memory cushion cover, the buttons and fabric could make flowers which could decorate a picture frame, or even become a picture themselves.
And don’t forget seasonal decorations! Daffodils, poinsettia; there’s a range of sizes and petal shapes, so you could easily become a fabric florist.
Thank you to Minerva Crafts for the opportunity to review this great template.

Sewing The Origami Shrug By Two Stitches, Using The Nancy Zieman Tool

I wanted to try a new tool for measuring my seams, hems and buttonholes, and noticed the Nancy Zieman Multi-Functional Sewing Tool. The idea that the gauge could be used to accurately measure curves, like a compass was interesting and I had the perfect project on my to-sew list to use it with.

The Origami shrug is a pattern-less-pattern meaning that you follow the instructions to measure accurately the dimensions of the shrug and sew it using the instructions, as in origami construction with paper. 

The plus points of this tool: it’s incredibly sturdy and attractive for a tool! I’ve used cheaper, sometimes ugly gauges in metal or finer plastic, but this seems both indestructible and appealing. It would be incredibly useful for marking buttonholes, and the gauge’s yellow attachment holds a measurement well, in case you need to re-measure (as we sewists often do!). 

It was very helpful for measuring the neckline curve and the freehand drawing of the pattern onto the fabric – and preparing my fabric to fold into the correct shapes to form the neckline and sleeves.

There was one negative point to this tool for me, all the markings are in inches, which may be due to the US origin of the design. I work pretty consistently in metric, I calculate measurements for seams and so on in my head as I work, and having to convert them to inches can be a bit frustrating. But I know many sewists who consistently use imperial measurements and would love this tool for that very reason.  

If you are inspired to use the tool to sew a shrug, you can use jersey as well as fine fabrics such as crepe or silk.

Thanks for reading,

Emma @ She Loves to Make


Olfa Compass Cutter Tool Review

Hi again everyone!

I’m Anita, from DIY with Manneken. I’m here once again to review a “new” Minerva product. It’s the Ratchet Compass Cutter from Olfa. A precision tool for cutting circles in thinner materials such as paper, film, arts and crafts. Cuts Precise circles from 1cm to 15cm in diameter and comes complete with 10 spare blades.

When I saw it at the Minerva Makers list I thought it would be an interesting product to try. At first I thought it was a compass to cut fabric, which would have been wonderful. (Let me know if a fabric compass does exist).

Once I received the compass I saw it was a paper and film cutter which is really practical for making circular patterns. When I make circular skirt patterns for example, I am never able to cut the circles properly with the scissors. It always looks like the circle is bit by some small fish or a bunny rabbit. With this compass cutter, circles are cut perfectly.

The compass cutter blister includes the following pieces:

The compass

10 Extra blades

A rubber pad to prevent pinholes

It’s designed for right handed and left handed uses. There is an integrated cm ruler, so you can measure the circle radius accurately. The blades is retractable so it remains protected and no one gets hurt.

To experiment with the compass cutter, I decided to make blocks for circular skirts with the different sizes I need.

I first tried the blade on pattern drafting paper. I placed my craft mat on the table to protect it, as the manufacturer recommends.

I placed my paper and calculated the radius of my circle. My waistline measures 61cm, so to find out the diameter of the circumference (which is my waistline), I applied the following formula:


61 = Pi x Diameter

Diameter = 61 / Pi

Diameter = 19.4 cm / Radius = 9.7cm

I used the radius value as I the compass cutter has a 13 centimetre ruler. As you can see in the image, I place the pin at 9.7 centimetre mark and place the rubber pad underneath to prevent pinholes. This rubber pad is a util instrument.

I place the blade downwards, and just turned the compass the same way as you use a pencil compass. Move the compass slowly, and eventually the paper cuts.

It’s really useful for small circles. I could not cut the hem of the pattern, but I found another use. My girls love crafting, and we’re always making different paper crafts, so I decided to prepare circles of different diameters for them made of colour cardboard. I made circles they could use for eyes, bodies, faces, and loads of different cute figures you can imagine.

And that’s my experience with the compass cutter which I found really useful.

Here's a short video showing you how to use the compass cutter. It’s short, but very clear. I hope it comes in handy.

What would you use the compass cutter for?

Thanks for reading,

Anita @ DIY with Manneken


Habico Mini Iron Review

For this month’s review, I wanted to try something a little different. I wanted to review a product instead of fabric, so I went for the Mini Iron as it has been on my wish list for a very long time (well, ever since I started sewing).

I find that pressing is an important part of sewing my projects and where I share my sewing space with my dining room, space is very limited and there is no space for a proper ironing board. So I have had to have my little ironing board from ikea set up on our kitchen counter with my travel iron. Occasionally my large iron and ironing board will be set up in the other room if I have to press larger garments.

This mini iron comes with a two pin plug, so you will need to get the necessary adapter for if you are in the UK like me.

I have two other irons, my standard steam iron, which I love as it is cordless and my travel iron which I can take with me where ever I go. This one is even better for taking to quilt classes as it is much smaller, thinner, easier to hold and control.

This mini iron only has two settings, hi (230?C) and low (150?C). I find I was using the “hi” setting for most of my projects and that the iron just glided over the fabric and pressed the seams open with ease.

When making the bias binding, I could not believe how easy it was to hold the mini iron in one hand and the bias binder maker in the other hand. It was a little more difficult with the standard iron or my travel iron.

All in all, this is a nifty little gadget to have in your sewing room. Thank you Minerva for letting me try it out.

Thanks for reading, until next time, Happy sewing.

Justine @justaboutcrafting


Prym Turning Tool Set Review

Hi I'm Julie from Sum of their Stories and I'm delighted to be back today to review the Prym Turning Tool Set.
I make a lot of bags and these little gadgets make turning the handles out really quick and easy.
I tested the set out making this denim tote bag.
In the set from Prym you get 3 different sizes of turning tool, Small, Medium and Large. A plastic tube and a pokey stick for each size.
For the denim bag handles I used the large size.
I had cut my handles out, each 2.5" or 6.5cm wide. I use denim on one side and a poly-cotton on the other side for the lining.
When using the turning tool you need to make your handles about 2 cm longer than you would normally. Then you stitch round them along one long side, across a short side and back down the other long side. You are making a pocket rather than a tube. Then you pop the plastic tube part of the turning tool inside the pocket.
You then take the wooden stick and use it to push the closed end of the pocket up into the plastic tube. With this thick denim fabric it took a little jiggling but once it gets started it pushes in pretty easily. 
As you push the wooden stick up, the tube turns itself inside out. 
Keep going until the plastic tube come out of the top, leaving the wooden stick inside. You can use the stick to poke the corners out. 
Then remove the stick and snip across the closed short end.
That's it, your tube is turned and ready to top stitch if required. 
I also tried the Prym turning tool to make some handles from a finer, slippery net fabric for another bag, For this lightweight fabric and smaller tube I used the medium sized tube turner.
Super quick and easy! 
I used to use either a safety pin or the method I'd seen online where you cut a strip of the selvage and sew that into the tube to turn it through. These turning tools work in the same way as the 'selvage strip' method but you can use them over and over. 
The 6.5cm wide denim fabric is about as thick and wide as the largest turning tool can cope with, I think I'd have struggled with anymore thickness of fabric. 
On the finer fabric the tool was amazing, so much quicker than any way I've tried before. 
I made a little drawstring bag to keep my Prym turning tool elements safe and together. I figured it would be too easy to loose one of the elements otherwise! 
To make one you'll need:
2 pieces of fabric 34cm x 9cm (13.5" x 3.5").
Thread - I used a contrast so you can see my stitches but your's will look best with a matching thread.
A length of ribbon.
A bead.
Starting and finishing 6cm (2.5") from the end, stitch round 3 sides of the fabric rectangles as shown in the photo. 
Working on each layer separately, turn and stitch a hem on each side. 
Fold those hemmed flaps in half, and stitch across to form a channel.
Thread a length of ribbon through the channels, add the bead and tie a knot to finish.
Now they all stay safely together.
These turning tools are not a sewing essential by any means but if you do turn a lot of tubes it could be a handy gadget. 
I think it would be a perfect gift for a sewing friend, you know the kind of person who already has everything! You could make them a pretty bag to keep them in too.

Fabric Remnant Bags Review

I love surprises. As a child I could be trusted with Christmas presents and as an adult I know where my birthday presents are hidden but I never go and peek at them.

Added into that my love of working with different materials and reviewing the Fabric Remnant Bags at Minerva ended up being just up my street.

For my mystery pack I got 3 smaller bags of fabric. Each of these bags was in a different colourway and each bag had different selection of fabrics in it. Each piece of fabric was roughly one metre long, so a perfect length for smaller projects like skirts and tops.

The white bag contained:

Plain white cotton – Useful for just about everything.

White eyelet cotton – this is destained to be a cami top of some sort.

Holly print cotton – this is a bit different as its Christmas themed, luckily I do tend to make a few decorations every christmas so I can see it coming in handy.

The blue bag contained:

Pale blue silky fabric – I’ll probably use this as a lining for a posh jacket.

Blue lining fabric – again this will probably end up ling something.

Cat and mouse jersey – I’d actually argue that this isn’t blue so doesn’t fit the theme of the bag however it is very cute. I’ve already used a small amount as slipper linings and I think the rest will be used to try my hand at making a baby grow maybe?

The black bag contained:

Wool suit fabric – this ended up being a skirt.

Black lace fabric – I LOVE this fabric and I used it to make a black lace top.

I decided to focus on the black bag because I wanted to see if I could make an outfit from one of the fabric bags.

Luckily the black bag contained all of the components I needed and I had the perfect pattern sat at home. I love the Newlook 6217 Pattern because it has everything you need in it to make a great capsule wardrobe. You could even extend the top pattern into a cute mini dress [wait let me just write that down in my “to make” notebook”].

Originally I wanted to make the cardigan from the lace however there wasn’t quite enough fabric so I opted for the top instead. It wasn’t too much of a hardship because both either a lace cardigan opr a lace top would have fit into my wardrobe really well.

I also decided to add a pleated ruffle to the bottom of the skirt. I’d seen something similar on pinterest so thought I’d give it a whirl. I do like it but I wish I’d thought to shorten the skirt slightly so it wasn’t so long.

The ruffle is just made up of two long rectangles which I sewed together into a circle and them pleated around the bottom of the skirt.

I did a lot of top stitching on the skirt because I love how the stitching sinks into the wool. It also helps to keep all of the seam allowances down and looking neat on the inside. For the hem I only turned it up once to avoid them looking bulky and I finished the waistband using bias binding.

The majority of the top is made on my overlocker. However if you don’t have any overlocker you could sew regular seams on a sewing machine and trim them neat or you could do a narrow french seam.

The back seam and hems were sewn on my regular machine. I tried to keep them as neat as possible so they wouldn’t be too glaring underneath the lace. The button is from my stash, I seem to own about four million odd buttons so tops like these are very useful for using them up.

All in all I really like them and I’ve ended up with a nice outfit for excellent value for money. I think bags like these are really useful for people who want to try sewing with lots of different types of fabric and learn new techniques.

Much love

Frankie @ Knits Wits Owls



My First Sewing Kit Review

I've always allowed my girls to be around my sewing and use small tool notions and leftover fabrics to experiment. I want them to be able to share in the joy I have of sewing. Of course, many things are just too dangerous for them to use at their age. Or, if I do allow them to use them, they need a lot of supervision to make it safe.
That's why I was excited to try this new kit, My First Sewing Kit. It's billed on the front of the box as "a fun way to start sewing." It contains everything a child needs to make four different projects: a photo frame, pencil case, secret diary, and cupcake handbag. The kit says it's for ages 6+, but my five-year-old tried it out, and I really feel that someone a little younger could attempt the projects with help from you.
The projects are definitely slanted towards typical girl activities. The colors, too, are mainly girly. This isn't to say that a boy couldn't enjoy trying his hand at sewing these projects, but they seem to have limited appeal in that direction. It could be a lovely gift or evena fun activity at a sleepover, with each attendee working on one of the crafts.
The individual projects are divided into their own plastic bags. They each contain the materials for that particular item. Each bag even holds its own needle, so there's no need to worry about losing one. It also means that more than one person can be working on sewing something at the same time. The box states that the needles have functional sharp points, but they really are quite dull. While you could poke it into something if you tried, your child won't be able to hurt their fingers as they work the needle through the pre-cut holes in the project foam.
My daughter immediately chose the most difficult project, the cupcake handbag. The directions aren't difficult, and there are a few drawings to help you figure it out. However, the directions do say that you should look at the color photos on the box for more help, and I would recommend that. Some aspects of the project were impossible to figure out otherwise. 
I did need to help my daughter work on this, but an older child would probably be able to work on it independently. Probably the most difficult aspect was just trying to get the cord through the needle eye. The cord kept unravelling as I attempted to shove it through. Perseverance won out, and I did get it, but my daughter never should have been able to.
Another issue we had was that each kit seems to come with the same amount of cord, and it was not enough for us to finish the handbag. My daughter did make a couple of stitching mistakes, so that may have contributed to this outcome, but I believe it wouldn't have been enough anyways.
We next made the photo frame, which was a straightforward project from beginning to end. In a lot of ways it was a glorified lacing card, but you end up with a cute little frame your child can display. I love that they get a sense of accomplishment that will help spur them on to trying new and more difficult sewing projects.
We haven't completed the other items in the kit yet, but we have been enjoying being able to sit down and work on a sewing project together that is just the right difficulty and size for a child. The projects are cute and immediately caught my daughter's attention. It's a great way to develop finger dexterity. All in all, a great little gift for the budding sewer in your life.

Hemline Deluxe Sewing Kit Review

When I saw this Deluxe Sewing Kit by Hemline at Minerva I thought it would be ideal for the Sewing Bee I’ve just set up at work.  There are a lot of members who are new to sewing and I’ve tried products by Hemline before now and never been disappointed.  I want to give my new stitchers a quality sewing experience!   
This kit consists of a large, sturdy, plastic carrying case with a handle and transparent lid.  There are lots of good quality items included in the case, 15 different products in total, which arrive well packed encased in bubble wrap and an outer cardboard box. 
There is also a handy, internal shaped lift out tray which can hold small items such as buttons, needles and other sundries and which stops them becoming lost in the bottom of the box. 
There is plenty of room inside the sewing box to hold all kinds of equipment in addition to those included and even space left over for a small craft project. 
Included in the basic kit is everything you would need to start out in sewing.  They are all good quality items too.  I’ll go through them all individually. 
A pair of dressmaking shears with shaped handles is included – they are a basic model but do cut cloth well and are fit for purpose.  There are also two large 1000 m reels of cotton in black and white – both useful colours which will last for some time.
Needles in the kit include a set of various sizes of hand sewing needles, handily contained in a round dispenser.  There are also some quality German made Klasse sewing machine needles in different sizes.  Up to now, the hand needles have been more than useful in the Sewing Bee at work and the machine needles will fit our two new sewing machines and no doubt be in use soon.  Two needle threaders are included in the box too – these are sturdy with plastic grips and will last. 
Also included in the kit is a seam ripper – this came in very handy the first time I opened the box – I have some novice stitchers in the Bee and it was in use straightaway!
In the way of pins, there is a set of 40 berry headed ones on a circular card and also a small plastic box of economy straight pins.  I prefer the berry headed variety myself but I can see the straight would be useful for small projects. 
I don’t normally use a thimble, but there is a strong one in the box if you need one.  I was surprised to also find some tailor’s chalk included in the kit as it’s something I wouldn’t expect a beginner to use – this comes in white in a handy plastic casing, so your fingers grip it well and it doesn’t become messy. 
There is a small packet of buttons in various sizes – useful as spares – 5 shirt buttons and 5 larger in white – all useful if you should be short of one and are things you’d expect to see in a sewing box.  Other useful items included are a box of safety pins in different sizes – not what you’d use in sewing but handy for a quick and hasty repair anytime.  Lastly, there’s a good quality tape measure in both metric and inches.   
This is one of the first projects completed by a member of my Sewing Bee – a handy zip topped bag - making good use of the Sewing Kit. 
If you are new to sewing, like my Sewing Bee members, and in need of a set of basic supplies which won’t let you down, then this Sewing Kit is definitely for you.
Thanks for reading,

Review of Merchant & Mills: The Workbook

Wow what a treat. That was my first impression upon receiving this beautiful book for the first time. It is one of those books that just feel wonderful to hold – it has a reassuring weight to it and lots of details that show the love that went into its creation. Am I the only one who feels like this when she gets a beautiful book? I hope not or you’re all missing out! Let us now go into a quick description of this book created by the wonderful Merchant & Mills, a lovely company based in East Sussex and you can find all of their haberdashery and patterns at Minerva. The Merchant and Mills Workbook itself is crafted in a quality brown card cover, which includes an envelope in the front cover containing all the pattern pieces on paper so they are not flimsy. The pages are matte and are the perfect weight and texture for stroking and lazily flicking through. In my head I sit in my dappled sunlit living room sipping black rose tea as I curl up to be immersed in this little world on my lap. Reality is harsher as I fight to keep my cold tea from being stolen by my youngest whilst yelling at my oldest to give me just a few minutes peace! Don’t believe everything you see on Instagram folks…

Back to the book! It claims to not be for beginner sewers and I agree. The instructions are plenty adequate and good but if you don’t understand certain terms or descriptions, i.e. which part of your deconstructed pieces is the facing then it can get confusing despite the illustrations. Once you get it though, the illustrations are great, the instructions are straight forward and so obvious it leaves you dumbfounded as to how you didn’t understand it to begin with. I can only emphasise that it is important to read the instructions very carefully and not add things from your head to it, say like adding sew in place when it actually only tells you to pin in place. What did help was reading a few steps ahead so I had an overview of what I needed to do.  

I attempted the Bantam vest and Strider shorts – so one of the most basic followed by the most advanced patterns in the book. I will share with you my Bantam and notes of construction of the Striders, but unfortunately no photos. My venture into tailored punky yellow plaid shorts was a failure as I stood forlornly in front my mirror, remarking to myself that they look like a complex version of pyjamas in the style of Muhammad Ali’s prized shorts. Except on me they made me feel more like Humpty Dumpty rather than an award winning boxer. Not all was bad though, I learned how to sew in a zippered fly and with the right heavier weight PLAIN fabric next time I intend to make a pair of trousers for the cooler months - maybe in dark denim to take it back down to casual.

Bringing us back to the Bantam vest, I made mine in orange linen from my stash. It was a lovely sew and the instructions were so easy to follow. The only thing I would add is that before step 11, you need to measure you bias tape around the armhole and neckline because the pattern piece appears to be one length for all sizes so I had to cut quite a lot of excess off. Despite the Vest’s simplicity or maybe because of its simplicity the quality of the construction really shone through. The bias bound neck and armholes and French seams looked amazingly professional and is a delight to wear. I wore mine a lot during the hot summer days revelling in the coolness and breathability of linen. In terms of undergarments (an important issue for some!), due to the racer back it is quite hard to wear a standard bra underneath without the straps showing oddly, but felt a bit too breezy to go without. Next time I will pull out my Madeleine for Simplicity pattern out to make a racer back bralette to go with it. Bring on the summer!

For the Strider shorts, the instructions on the pattern pieces refer to page 137 of the book where it teaches you to some basic drafting so that the shorts can be hemmed without loosing width. It would have been useful to state on the pattern pieces where this extra bit of information was since I spent ages looking for it in all the wrong places. Once again, with this book it is very important to read all the instructions before starting.

Another thing I found confusing was that the pattern pieces labelled as facings were not the only facings in the instructions so I spent many a minutes scratching my head and trying to make see the pieces in the diagrams which just confused me more. The facings referred to in the books ended up referring not to the pieces but the places with facings on the main trousers. Another thing I love about matte pages though is that they invite you to scribble and draw in them all the more. After a moment of hesitation I gleefully drew in arrows and labels to avoid confusion next time and thus marked my book as mine.

I love my Merchant & Mills Workbook and I want to make everything inside it. From this advanced beginner’s point of view, everything in the book is highly doable and you will be left with a wardrobe of classy garments from a couple of tops, a bias cut dress, a very posh looking cardigan/”coatigan”, tailored trousers to a laid back drawstring skirt with grommets. I love how woven fabric is celebrated in this book and highly impressed that a woven top was designed that looks great on, doesn’t gape, but has no openings. I am a woven girl at heart so I try to find woven versions in everything including t-shirts. The bias cut top in this book even covers that! If you’re like me and love the world of sturdy woven over stretchy knits, then this book is definitely for you.

Thank you for reading! Follow me @MadameShannanigans on Instagram.

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