A small, sustainable wardrobe: everyday mending

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

The very first thing I did today was mend a pair of trousers. I have a pair of chinos from a well known high-street store that I have worn and worn and worn over the last couple of years, and as a result I have worn a couple of holes right through the fabric by the back pockets. They are pretty baggy and saggy and out of shape. The fabric is fraying all along the waistband, pocket edges, and anywhere else that it possibly can. I could quite legitimately stick them in the rag recycling bag, except that they are now the most buttery-soft, not-in-the-least-bit-fussy, I-don’t-care-if-I-get-them-dirty trousers in the world. There’s room for them in my wardrobe yet.

The reason they were finally mended today was that I wanted to add them to a lights wash, and as anyone with experience of such things will tell you, adding things with holes to a washing machine is a recipe for disaster. Your little holes will grow. Sometimes they even turn into huge, unmendable rips. It was time for a quick fix.

Mending is one of those things that a lot of people just don’t do any more. It’s seen as fiddly, and difficult. There’s still some sort of myth that mends need to be either pretty (think Liberty patches) or invisible. So it’s no wonder that those of us who do intend to mend end up with a basket full, waiting for several hours of our attention.

In the real world, mends need to be quick and functional. If this had been a dropped dress hem or a snag in a pair of expensive woollen tights, I would have taken more time over a bit of handsewing. But these trousers are not going to be worn anywhere fancier than around the house, in the garden, or to the shops. I don’t care if people can see that I’ve stitched them up. In fact, I rather hope they do, and that it encourages them to do the same.

This particular job took less than the time it takes to make a cup of tea. I threaded my machine, set it to a narrow zigzag stitch and ran  over both holes a few times.

I didn’t even bother to change the thread on my bobbin: no-one is going to see the inside anyway.

People of a certain generation tend to mend their clothes because they were taught to do so as children. Most of us don’t. For some people, mended clothes feel like poverty, and I understand that. But for the rest of us, mending is a choice, and it is one that we really ought to take. A new pair of cotton chinos costs much more than £30 or £40. A quick search throws up all sorts of figures for water usage in the production of a single pair of jeans – any where from 3,781 to 11,000 litres. Whichever figure you choose, that’s an awful lot of water. Cotton chinos will have a similarly outrageous wet footprint. These weren’t organic cotton either. Cotton is the most pesticide-hungry of all major agricultural crops, and I’d like to get as much use as I can out of these to make up for the havoc they have already wreaked. The last thing I want to do is go out and buy another pair to do the gardening in.

The truth is that I won’t be wearing these to work or out to dinner. I do now have a reasonably-smart-and-warm trouser-shaped hole in my wardrobe. But these will serve beautifully as a way of keeping a new pair clean and smart for much longer than if I chucked these and went out and bought a new pair to wear for everything from cleaning my bike to public speaking at work. After all, that’s what people used to do with their clothes: keep old, mended ones for everyday, and enjoy something new as their Sunday best. No ordinary person would have dreamed of going out and buying something  new to dig the garden in.

I like to mend things as they need it, rather than letting it grow into an intimidating pile. Mostly it’s a quick fix – I’ve been known to use duck tape to keep old slippers going – but I do take my time occasionally. As a rule, though, no mending job should take more than ten minutes, which isn’t much to give in return for a freshly functional garment. You don’t need much in the way of skill, or even a sewing machine. Everyone should be able to sew on a button, pick up a hem and whipstitch a rip, in my opinion. It’s as much a life skill as being able to cook a meal, or change a tyre.

There has been a surge of interest in mending lately, with the most beautiful visible mends all over the internet. Some of them are truly gorgeous: sashiko stitching, fussy-cut patches, floral embroidery over holes. Visible mending is a rabbit hole that I could very happily fall down, given the time. Mostly though, I’m sticking to the fast and furious everyday mends that just keep everything ticking over. Five minutes, and the job is done, and I can get started on the washing.

Madeleine

Do you mend your clothes? Are you skilled at it, or do you take the fast route, or (like me) do you use a mixture of the two approaches?

A-line skirt sewalong part four: the hem

Welcome back to the final part of the A-line skirt tutorial. You’re nearly there: follow these steps and you will have finished your skirt!

The first thing you need to do is try your skirt on, ideally with some of the other things you will be wearing with it. This is so that you can decide precisely how long you want it to be. With the help of an assistant, try pinning it up to various lengths. When you find a length you like, ask them to use tailors’ chalk, a fabric marker or pins to mark the desired length of your skirt.

If necessary, trim your skirt fabric so that there is an even 5cm/ 2” seam allowance all the way around. (If you have less spare fabric available, make your hem thinner.)

Then turn 2cm/ 1/2” under all the way around and press. (Mine looks really wobbly, but this is an extreme close up – and it’s linen!)

Then turn a further 3cm/ 1 1/2” under and press again.

Pin this seam into place. Try the skirt on to check that the hem is even. Adjust it if necessary.

Then hand stitch the hem into place all the way around. To do this, work with your skirt inside out. Secure your knot in the seam allowance on one side of the skirt. Insert your needle under just two or three threads of the skirt.

Then push the needle into the hem. Run it along the folded edge and bring it out a centimetre or so further along.

Insert it into the skirt directly underneath where it emerges, picking up just two or three stitches.

From the right side, you should only be able to see tiny little stitches, if you look closely.

Sew all the way round, removing the pins, and then you’re done.

Give it a good press, put it on and enjoy!

Madeleine

I hope you’ve enjoyed making your skirt, and have found these tutorials helpful. Have you learned any new skills during this project?

A-line skirt sewalong part three: the zip and side seam

Welcome back to the third week of the A-line skirt sewalong! This week, we’re going to insert the zip and finish the second side seam. Invisible zips are the easiest to insert because any little wobbles are, well, invisible. Lay out your skirt right side out, so that the unattached edges B and D are on centred and on the top. The back of the skirt (piece 2) will be on the left and the front (piece 1) on the right. You can see this in the photo below.

Now lay your zip, with the invisible side (teeth hidden) facing down, at the top of edge D. Line up the top of the actual zip (not the extra tape at the top) with the top of the waistband. Line up the teeth of the zip with the sewing line of D. Pin into place. Remember to fold down and pin the protruding top end of the zip, too. In the photo below, I have pinned the zip into place but haven’t folded the top of the zip down yet.

Now, this next bit is crucial. It takes a bit of time but saves a lot more time with a seam ripper later on. Hand sew the zip into place. Use medium sized stitches. Doing this means that you’ll sew it in neatly and accurately when you get to the machine. Then remove the pins. Unzip the zip all the way, taking care not to inadvertently pull the zip-pull right off the end, or your zip will be useless.

Fix your zipper foot to the machine. The key to inserting an invisible zip invisibly is to sew as close as possible to the teeth, by actually rolling them out of the way as you sew. In the photo below, I’m pulling the teeth out of the way. The point of the pin shows you how close I’ll get to the teeth. You can achieve a really neat job if you go slowly and carefully. Your basting stitches will stop everything shifting about, so you can focus on getting as close to those teeth as possible. Stitch the zip into place from the top to the bottom. The zip pull will stop you from being able to get all the way to the bottom; just do your best. Remember to backstitch at either end.

Now you’re going to sew the other side of the zipper to the front of the skirt. Press the seam allowance of edge B towards the wrong side, so that you have a crease where the sewing line is. Lay the skirt wrong side out this time, but still with edges B and D on top. Piece 1 (the front) will be on the left and piece 2 (the back) on the right.

Zip up the zip. Mark the point where you stopped sewing on the other side of the zip, with a fabric marker or pen. (This will be the point where you couldn’t get any closer to the bottom of the zip, because the zip-pull was in the way.)

Arrange the zip so that the unsewn side of it is invisible side (teeth hidden) down on the seam allowance of B. Making sure that the tops of both ends of the waistbands line up nicely, pin it to the top of the waistband. Don’t worry about folding the top of the zip over at this stage.

Then unzip the zip again. Aligning the teeth to the sewing edge of B, pin it into place from top to bottom. Make sure that you only pin the zip to the seam allowance, and not the outside of the skirt.

Check that you’ve positioned the zip correctly by arranging the skirt pieces as if they were all sewn up. The zip should be enclosed within the skirt, with the pull on the outside. If it’s incorrect, now’s the time to change it. If it’s correct, fold down the top of the zip, and hand sew the zip into place. Remove all the pins as you go. Zip it up and down again, just to check that everything is nicely aligned.

Using the machine, sew it into place, just as you did for the other side of the zip. Take your time and get as close to the teeth as you can. Stop when you reach the mark you made.

Now zip up the zip and turn your skirt inside out. Pushing the unsewn bottom part of the zip up and out of the way, insert a pin to hold the seam BD together along the sewing line. You can see that I’ve done this in the photo below. The pin needs to go as close as possible to the bottom of the stitched down portion of the zip.

Pin the rest of seam BD along the sewing line. Sew this seam, from as close you can get from the bottom of the zip all the way to edge E, making the join as smooth as possible. It should look like this from the right side:

Then turn it inside out and press the seam open. By now, it should be looking nice and neat.

That’s it! The zip and second side seam are done! Next time, you’ll finish the hem of your skirt.

Madeleine

Have you inserted an invisible zip before? What about other types of zip? Or have you been wary of them in the past?

 

A-line skirt sewalong part two: the darts and the waistband

Hello there! Welcome back to week two of the A-line skirt sewalong. In today’s tutorial you’re going to learn how to insert darts, interface the waistband, and attach the waistband to the skirt.

The first thing you need to do is zigzag around all those edges, apart from edge E. Just set your machine to a wide zigzag stitch and whizz your way around all of your pieces. This stops the fabric unravelling. You can see that I’ve done that in the photo below.

Set your machine back to a straight stitch. Now it’s time to insert those darts into piece 2. Working on just one dart at a time, fold the fabric right sides together so that the two diagonal lines of the dart lie on top of one another. The excess fabric should be on the wrong side of the fabric, as shown below.

The trick with darts is to iron them flat, pin them along the sewing line, and sew from the fat end towards the point. Never sew all the way to the point: stop a few stitches early, leave your ends long and tie them in a granny knot. This prevents the end from puckering. You can see one of my finished darts in this photo:

Press the darts towards the centre back of the skirt:

Now you’re going to prepare the waistband. Lay your waistband (piece 3), wrong side up, along your ironing board.

Centre your interfacing, glue side down, on your waistband. The glue side is normally a bit bumpy to the touch. You should have the seam allowance of the waistband showing evenly all the way around the interfacing. You can see this in the photograph below. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, iron the interfacing onto the waistband. It’s advisable to place an old cloth between your iron and the interfacing, to protect your iron.

Now fold your waistband (piece 3) in half lengthways and wrong sides together so that seams F and G are touching. Your waistband will be the right way out. Press along the fold to create a crease. I’ve just pressed mine in the photograph below.

Sew seam BD down the left hand side only of the skirt. With right sides together, pin seam BD of the skirt fabric from top to bottom. If piece 2 is on top of piece 1, you are pinning the seam on the right.

I forgot to take a photo of this stage (sorry!), but here’s a photo of the finished seam, so you can see which side seam you are sewing. It’s the sewn, pressed and therefore slightly sticking up seam on the right. Remember, piece 2 is on top.

With right sides together, sew seam BD of the skirt fabric from top to bottom. Press seam BD open. You can see how I’ve draped the skirt over my ironing board to do this, here:

You are now going to sew the waistband to the skirt. Open out your skirt, so that it is lying right side up.

Open up your waistband. Now line up edge G of the waistband with edge C of the skirt, so that the raw edges of each are together and the stitching line of H is in line with the stitching line of D (not seam BD). The right side of the waistband should lie against the right side of the skirt. Pin seam GC. It should look just like this:

Then continue round the top of the skirt, pinning piece 3 to piece 1 along seam GA. Because the waistband is straight and the skirt is curved, you have to pull gently on the curved skirt to fit the waistband to it, like so:

Once it is pinned into place all the way along, sew all the way along the seam GC and GA. (Make sure you keep edge F out of the way.)

Now unfold the waistband, smoothing it upwards, and press seam GA and GC open on the wrong side. You want all the seam allowances to be pressed upwards towards the top of the waistband too. Then you need to fold the seam allowance on edge F down, over the interfacing, and iron it down. You can see that I’ve done all of this here:

Next, you need to fold the whole waistband in half lengthways, wrong sides together, so that F is folded down to G. It should look like a finished (but unsewn) waistband, like so:

Pin this into place.

I always like to finish my clothing by hand, as it gives such a neat finish. Sew the folded edge of F to the inside of the skirt, taking care that your stitches can’t be seen on the right side. It’s easiest to insert your needle a couple of millimetres above the folded edge of the waistband, and sew through the seam allowances hidden inside. Then bring your needle out on the folded edge of the waistband, a bit further along. Here is my needle in the middle of taking a complete stitch.

Then insert your needle a couple of millimetres above where you have just brought it out. You’ll leave a little trail of tiny stitches on the inside, and nothing at all on the outside. It should look like this on the inside:

When you fold the back of the waistband over, it should look like this from the back of the skirt

and like this from the front:

It’s beginning to look like a skirt! Next week, you’ll be inserting the zipper and finishing the other side seam.

Madeleine

How are you getting on? It’s always great to get feedback, be it questions, comments or suggestions – do let me know if these tutorials are helpful to you.

A-line skirt sewalong part one: gathering and cutting

Hello, and welcome to the first part of the A-line skirt sewalong. If you’re new to garment making and would like step-by-step support in making this simple skirt, you’ve come to the right place.

Please read all of the instructions both here and in the pattern booklet before cutting out your pieces.

This skirt looks lovely but different in all sorts of fabrics. The stiffer the fabric, the more it sticks out. I made a lovely structured version a couple of years ago in a boiled wool felt, which looked a bit Jetsons. This time, I’ve gone for a floppy but thick linen, which hangs beautifully. Choose your fabric according to what you want, but make sure that it’s sturdy enough to stand up to being sat on a lot, and firm enough that it won’t go baggy around the rear end too quickly.

Whatever you choose, wash it the way you’ll wash it after it’s made up, dry it, and iron it. Make sure that you have everything else that you need, too.

I’m going to assume that you’ve measured yourself and chosen a size, but if not, go and do that now.

The first thing that you need to do is print out one page of the pattern pieces. Then – and this is imperative – measure the little test box at the top of that the page. If it measures 5×5 cm, go ahead and print the rest of the pattern in the same way. If it doesn’t, check that your printer is set to print at 100% and try again. If the box is the wrong size, the pattern will be, too.

Next, cut out all of the pattern boxes and arrange them in a grid pattern. You’ll notice that each pattern box has two numbers in the top left corner. This indicates its place in the grid. The first number indicates the row, and the second indicates the column. The rows run from top to bottom and the columns from left to right. So box 1,1 is the top left hand box. Box 4,5 is on the fourth row from the top, fifth box from the left.

Then stick them all together. Try to be as accurate as you can, as this will affect the fit of your skirt. Obviously the odd millimetre doesn’t matter, but do your best.

Next, highlight the size that you are going to make. It is all too easy to cut out the wrong size, or sew the wrong dart.

Now you can cut out your pattern pieces. For this tutorial, I’ve laid out my pieces on a 45″ wide piece of fabric, as this is the simplest layout. Fold your fabric in half, along the grain (lengthways). Lie your pattern pieces out at shown below, with the fold of the fabric in line with the fold line on the pattern pieces. Remember to leave a seam allowance around all the other edges.

(If you want to use a 150cm/ 60″ wide piece of fabric, the layout is slightly more complex. Fold one side of your fabric in by 44cm/ 17″ and lay out one skirt piece as shown.

Then fold the other edge in by 44cm/ 17″ (they will overlap) and lay out the other pieces as shown. Make sure that you leave a seam allowance between the two skirt pieces. You need to place, cut, refold and place each pattern piece for this method, but it is more efficient than using a square 150cm/ 60″ piece of fabric.)

Pin or weigh down your pattern pieces so that they don’t move. Then, using either chalk or a fabric pen/pencil, draw around each piece (but not on the fold). This will be your sewing line.

Then draw another line (again, not on the fold) 1.5 cm or about half an inch outside of your sewing line. This will be your cutting line. You can make this seam allowance bigger or smaller as you choose. Personally, I like small seam allowances, but it can be handy to have a bigger one in case you want to let the skirt out later.

Along the bottom hem of the skirt, allow a bigger 6cm/ 2″seam allowance. This will allow for a nice deep hem, and for some flexibility when determining the final length of your skirt.

Go and have a cup of tea. When you get back, double check everything. Only then can you cut out your skirt and waistband pieces. You should also cut out your interfacing at this point.

Now you can unpin the paper piece from the back skirt, and transfer all the markings so that you know which seam is which later on. You also want to transfer the dart markings to the back pieces. I do this by poking a hole in the paper at several points in the dart, making dots on the fabric through the holes, and then joining the dots. Then unfold your fabric piece and flip your pattern piece over to transfer all the markings to the other half the back skirt piece. Remember that there’s a dart on the other half of the back, too.

Phew – that’s the hardest bit done. Next time, we’ll be putting in the darts and attaching the waistband.

 

The A-Line skirt pattern is now available!

It is with no small amount of excitement that I’m writing to let you know that my first ever dressmaking pattern is now for sale! You can find it in my Etsy shop. I cannot begin to tell you how much I’ve learned through this process – in fact, it could be the subject of another whole series. For now, allow me to share a couple more images with you.

We took the photos while we were on a family holiday in Derbyshire this half term. My parents booked the most beautiful house for all 14 of us, and this was the view from the kitchen windows:

So naturally it became the location for a little photoshoot. The stone steps with flowerbeds take you down from the back of the house to the lawn.

I had planned to give this skirt to Fliss, but having styled it for the photoshoot I think it’ll be filling a skirt-shaped hole in my wardrobe until I try out another pattern. It is as elegant and easy to wear as I remembered – perhaps even a little more so.

We had such a lovely time, pottering about and having a little outing every day. One day most of us went down a local mine. Another – rainbow-filled – day we spent in the grounds of Chatsworth:

And my personal highlight was our visit to Haddon Hall. I’d never been there before and I was blown away. I’ve been to a LOT of stately homes and never seen anything like this. No wonder they shoot so many period films there. I’m going to write a post all about it next week, but for now let me share just a glimpse here and there…

When we got home, I spent a couple of days finalising the pattern pdfs for the Little Flurries jumper and the A-Line skirt, before doing more pottering around my own house and garden. The week culminated in a big 40th birthday party of a friend, which meant a night away in Harrogate, before starting the Christmas knitting in front of the fire (and Doctor Who, of course) yesterday. It has been such a lovely holiday, and I feel refreshed and ready for the next couple of months.

But for now, let me leave you with one last photo of the skirt. The sewalong begins tomorrow, and you’ll find full photographed tutorials to accompany the pattern published every Tuesday in November. Do let me know if you make one, and how you get on. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you!

Madeleine

Do you have a good basic skirt pattern in your collection? Which patterns do you turn to again and again?

A Lined A-Line Skirt – we have a winner!

First of all, thank you to everyone who entered the ‘A Lined A-Line Skirt’ giveaway. Your interest and support is much appreciated, as always.

Congratulations to Kathleen, who is the winner! Please check your inbox for an email from me.

The launch date of the pattern has been amended ever so slightly from today to Monday 5 November. Thank you for your patience and understanding. I will post a link to it in my Etsy shop as soon as it is available for purchase.

Have a great weekend!

Madeleine

A small, sustainable wardrobe: introducing a lined A-line skirt – and a giveaway

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

One of the most important things about building a small, sustainable wardrobe is having things just the way you like them. It’s no good having a beautiful skirt in a lovely fabric which fits you perfectly if it doesn’t go with any of your tops. It’s equally limiting to know that your skirt, which goes with everything you own, is in a fibre that you just don’t get along with. Shopping for clothes, when everything has to work as hard as it does in a tiny wardrobe, can be a frustrating business. Which is one of the reasons that I make most of mine.

Sewing your own clothes gives you complete control over fit, fabric and finish. But it also gives you control over your supply chain. Without the ability to sew, the ethical consumer is limited to an ever-expanding but still fairly small number of suppliers. It can be hard to get what you want – and it can be expensive, too, if you buy all your clothes from such companies. Learn to sew and you can choose reasonably priced organic, fair-trade fabrics and threads from small, responsible companies. A simple skirt needn’t cost a fortune to be sustainably produced – provided you have the skills to make it. And you can still support skilled workers by buying other things – like jackets and underthings – from your favourite ethical companies.

When I was dreaming up my first knitting and sewing patterns, I knew exactly what I wanted to design: a micro-collection that new knitters and dressmakers could make for themselves. An introduction to making that bypassed the scarves and cushion covers and went straight to what I wanted when I started out: a simple wardrobe that I could make for myself. And so the very first of my dressmaking patterns to be released is a version of the very first garment I ever sewed for myself: an A-line skirt.

My first skirt was not exactly responsible, but it was fun. Do you remember the trend for buttons and ribbons on skirts, circa 2005? I really wanted a woolen A-line skirt embellished with ribbons – I’m sure they were everywhere that winter. Short on cash, I went to a local craft store and bought a length of acrylic felt and some inexpensive ribbons, and set to work. One wonky zip later, I was the proud owner of a pseudo-woolen skirt, the likes of which I had been ogling in Monsoon. I topstitched the ribbons around the hem and was delighted with the effect. (Needless to say the acrylic bagged horribly after a few wears and will no doubt still be around in a few hundred years, and for that I apologise. That was before I switched on about unnecessary plastic use.)

Simple as it is, the A-line skirt is one that I have returned to again and again over the years – in much nicer fabrics and with properly inserted zips. I don’t think you can beat it for its versatility. It is the sort of skirt that you can go to work in (think heels and a blouse), wear in the garden (add wellies and a jumper), take on holiday (avec strappy top and sandals) or just wear at the weekends (with nice boots and your favourite top). My most recent – in real wool felt – was such a favourite that it looked quite disgraceful by the time I cut it up for potholders. And the sample I sewed last week – to test the pattern pdf and take tutorial photos of – is a lovely teal linen version, for Fliss. Of course, as soon as she put it on I thought, that is the perfect school uniform skirt for her, and I’ll be making up a couple more in navy after her next growth spurt.

Being ageless, A-line skirts suit pretty much everyone. They don’t smack of a particular trend or era, and so can be worn by old and young alike. Depending on your choice of fabric, colour and pattern, they complement anyone’s wardrobe. Fliss has plans to embroider hers all along the hem, as she did to great effect with her old dance skirt this summer. But you could make one in a floral, tartan, tweed or whatever motif takes your fancy. They are the blank canvas of the skirt world.

As this is a beginner’s pattern, I have written and photographed a full tutorial series which will be published over four weeks following the pattern release next Friday. This tutorial/ sewalong will take you through printing and cutting your pattern pieces to laying out your pieces, sewing them together, inserting a zip and hand-finishing the hem. As with my Snow Day pattern, the directions are written out in full, plain English. I’ve even gone so far as to label each edge, so that you can simply look for edge g and h and sew them together, without wondering which is the top of the front of the waistband, and so on.  But you don’t have to be a beginner to use this. Although the beginners’ tutorial takes you through how to sew the skirt unlined, the pattern pdf instructions are for making this up as a lined skirt. So you can choose whichever set of instructions you prefer, or which best suit your abilities.

Speaking of abilities, you need to be able to sew an accurate straight line and a slight curve on a sewing machine if you want to make this skirt. Of course you’ll also need other skills, like wielding an iron and being able to use scissors and tape, but we’ll take those for granted. This is a pattern suitable for confident beginners.

I’m really proud of this pattern. Not because it’s fancy or complex (it is neither), but because it takes something which could be fancy and complex and makes it simple. What you will receive is exactly the sort of pattern I would make for myself, with the sort of clear and logical explanations I use as self-talk when I’m working out how to assemble a garment. The pattern itself is hand-drafted, hand-graded from the middle size (UK 12) and represents a lot of detailed work. It is not a commercial pattern. It is a home dressmaker’s pattern, carefully prepared for sharing.

With sharing in mind, I’d like to announce a little giveaway with respect to this pattern. I’m going to send a free copy of the A-line skirt pattern to one of every ten people who leave a comment at the end of this post. Whatever the number of comments, I’ll round it up and choose that number of commenters at random to receive a free copy.

If you would like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post by Thursday 1 November 2018. Please only leave one comment per person, and make sure that you use a valid email address so that I can contact you if you win. I’ll be drawing the winner(s) and sending out the pattern(s) on Friday 2 November. Please note that you need to leave a comment in order to be entered – emails will not count. And if you’d like to leave a comment but don’t want to be entered in the draw, just say so in your comment!

Edited: The pattern itself will be released next Monday, 5 November 2018, and will be available via Etsy. Apologies for the delay and thank you for your patience! I’ll update this post with a link when it goes live. The pattern is graded for waist sizes 25″-31.5″/ 64cm-80cm (UK sizes 8-16).

Edited: The pattern is now available via my Etsy shop.

Madeleine

What was the first garment you ever made for yourself? Do you have any go-to patterns that you’ve used over and over again (this is one of mine). Or are you a dressmaking newbie? I’d love to know!

A small, sustainable wardrobe: we are the grown ups now

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

My Sharpen Your Pencils dress as modelled by the gorgeous Ella. We got together for a photoshoot in the summer holidays, and she wowed me with how a  woman in her late teens or early twenties might style and wear my clothes. There are more photos to follow of both of us in the patterns. The dress pattern will be available in the coming months.

For some time now, I’ve been mulling over how to present my patterns within the wider context in which they are created. In the end, a series seems the best way forward: a weekly post about clothing and its impact both on us and the world around us.

I have always been interested in the wider world, the health of our planet, and the living conditions of its poorest inhabitants. You don’t grow up in a country like Tanzania in the 1980s and then turn a blind eye to issues like climate change, pollution, poverty, or human rights. Perhaps it seems odd – frivolous even – to approach these issues through the prism of the clothes we wear. Perhaps it is. But we all, without exception, clothe ourselves each day. And when you are conscious of your daily choices in one sphere, this consciousness spills over into other parts of your life, until before you know it, you are buying your loose leaf tea in an old ice cream tub and looking for a car share buddy.

I can distinctly remember learning about climate change at school. I was an early member of Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots – a global environmental organisation which started in Tanzania, educating and inspiring children from kindergarten through to university about the change that they can make to the planet and its people. I remember reading Douglas Adam’s wonderful Last Chance to See, and about the rate at which the rainforests were disappearing, and being taught about the importance of educating women in eradicating poverty. So we kids made our changes: we stopped buying aerosols, and ate less meat, and learned to recycle our waste.

And all the time, I trusted the grown ups to sort the big things out.

More than twenty years on, little has changed. If anything, the rate of destruction has increased. We are producing over 300 million tons of plastic every year. Girls all over the world – including developed countries – miss school every month because of lack of sanitary ware. Between 150 and 200 species go extinct every day. Governments make decisions which they know are harmful rather than helpful to the world and its inhabitants. Even Lovelock’s fantastically optimistic Gaia hypothesis has lost its nerve.

We could do nothing. We could weep and wail and feel powerless in the face of big corporations, big government, big natural disasters that heap still more misery onto human misery. Or we could simply accept that we are the grown ups now.

I have money in my pocket, and I can choose where to spend it. I have places to go, and I can choose how to get there. I have children, and I can choose what sort of a role model I wish to be for them. I have friends, and I can choose what to talk about with them. And I have a voice, here on this blog, that I can choose how to use.

Most recently, I had the choice of what to do with the time that has opened up to me as my children grow ever bigger. I put a lot of thought into what I wanted the legacy of this time to be. In the end, I decided to start a business selling dressmaking and knitwear patterns. How, you might think, is that a positive choice? How will that make a difference? How is that being a grown up?

I started making my own clothes when our children were small and, frankly, we had no money for adult clothes shopping. More pertinently, we had nothing like the money required to buy the ethically made garments I really wanted. So as well as shopping second hand and accepting hand-me-downs, I decided to teach myself to make them. Of course, there wasn’t spare cash for patterns either, so I borrowed a book from the library and tried to draft my own.

Over a decade later, I’ve learned a vast amount. Best of all, I’ve taken charge of the choices I make. Knitting and dressmaking can be as sustainable – or otherwise – as you make it. Churning out clothes that you don’t need or don’t even want is no better than going shopping every Saturday. If you are taking clothes to the charity shop, you are still consuming too much.

Instead, I’ve become fascinated by detail, by skill, by versatility and material. I demand a huge amount of my clothes: that they be warm or cool or cross-seasonal, that they be comfortable, that they be attractive, that they fit into a reasonably compatible colour palette, that they have the sort of details that make them not just good enough, but exactly as I want them. One of the things that delighted me most about the reception of my Snow Day jumper was the number of people who commented on the little details. I added an uneven hem because it looks good and keeps my lower back warm. I added a very wide boat neck because I wanted a jumper that was both a little bit sexy but also cosy. The sleeves are ribbed to make them extra warm, because I feel the cold. And these details matter because that is my only jumper. I don’t have another jumper in my wardrobe. It needs to work hard.

In my wardrobe there is a fairly stable number of items, though of course it fluctuates a little. At the moment I have three pairs of shoes, three coats or jackets, one jumper and two cardigans, three dresses, three tops and four bottoms. Actually, I only have two bottoms, because I’m waiting to test the printed version of a couple of patterns. But there will be four, soon. I make my clothes exactly the way I want them, and then I wear them over and over again. Eventually they wear out, and I cut them up and make them into other things: quilts and potholders and so on, to give as gifts or use around the house. It works out that I generally need to replace one of each category each year. That means that I make one new knit, one dress, one top and one or two bottoms a year. I buy new shoes, coats and underwear as I need them, usually secondhand or from ethical companies.

Of course, having a tiny wardrobe isn’t going to save the world. But it was one of my first steps to making a significant difference. And I do believe that I make a significant difference. Every time I refuse to buy wrapped cheese, every time I log onto The Life You Can Save, every time I get on a train instead of an airplane. Spending less on shopping means that I have more money to donate or spend with trusted companies. Making my own clothes, and making them precisely as I want them, ironically means that I spend less time thinking about my clothes and more time thinking about things that matter. Each night I put away the few things that have needed to be washed. Each morning I put on whatever is clean and suitable for the demands of the day. I might wear the same things over and over again, but I couldn’t care less. I love all of my clothes and feel fabulous in them.

If you wanted to, you could work through all the patterns with me and, at the end of three years, we’d have sibling wardrobes. In different colours, no doubt, and different patterns and materials, but essentially the same. That would be fun. Equally, I’d be happy if people made just one of my patterns, so that they had that one great dress, or sweater, or pair of socks, and stopped buying more and more and more. Because the world just can’t take it any longer.

In my messy, imperfect life, making my own clothes is one of many things that I do to try to make a difference. I make mistakes all the time (though not in my patterns, I hope!), but I keep on trying. The internet is full of inspirational people sharing their personal passions. This is my offering: make the world the way you want it to be, from the clothes on your back to the cares in your head. Be conscious. Most of all, know that the choices you make do matter. We might not all be politicians or aid workers or company bosses. But we are the grown ups now.

Madeleine

Do you buy lots of clothes, in the search for the ‘perfect’ this or that? Do you make any of your own? What would your ideal wardrobe look like, in order to work for you and the world around you?

Small pleasures

First, there is pleasure in giving. Fliss has been asking for a waxed fabric sandwich wrap all summer, and I finally made her one on Sunday evening. The best part was letting her choose whatever she wanted out of my fabric stash. She chose what is also my favourite: this beautiful vintage floral green, and I know it brings her as much pleasure every lunchtime as it would me. We are neither of us fans of the cumbersome, and a simple wrap-come-tablecloth that folds away into nothing beats a lunchbox any day.

Then there is also pleasure in deliberating. I don’t have much of a stash, as a rule, but I did a bit of shopping while we were in London to make up new pattern samples. The teal linen, which is heavy and rich with drape, was to be a new Sharpen Your Pencils dress, only now I’m dreaming of a new lined A-line skirt in it instead. The floral viscose was to be a Beat the Blues Blouse, but wouldn’t it make the most satisfying of secretly-lovely linings for my skirt? Extravagant, yes. But I think I might be persuaded.

On the more frugal side of things, plans for my scraps are evolving. This little heap of 2 1/2″ squares were to be a postage stamp quilt, and maybe they still will. Or perhaps they’ll be an English Paper Piecing project, instead. I’m thinking of a tea cosy constructed of tiny hexagons, nestled together to keep the pot warm. It is the sort of long slow project that I would like to reserve for weekend afternoons, before the sun slips away behind the hen house.

Speaking of hens, our little flock of chicks is not quite old enough to join the ladies in the big house, but it won’t be long. For now, they are taking it in turns to enjoy the garden. They set out with such determination, arguing over fallen apples and particularly satisfying scratching spots, before ending up in the inevitable chicken cuddle under a tree. Even when the grown girls are out and the little ones are safely in their run, the hens nestle up to the wire. Perhaps we could let them all out together, but I think the small ones aren’t quite big enough to deal with the jostling yet. Sorting out the pecking order can be a stressful business. Everyone is happy, just now, so we’ll keep it this way for a while yet.

Generally, one or the other of us keeps an eye on the chicks while they’re free-ranging, because there are a lot of foxes about just now. We can see them from the kitchen window, but Seb is quite happy in the hammock with a blanket and a book, and John has been sanding this chair on the patio. Spotted for sale in a front garden, I brought it home in early July and put it in the garage. It sat there, untouched, until I lost the ability to see past the dark varnish and faded seat and began to regret the purchase. It was on its way to the St Leonard’s Hospice shop to earn its second lot for charity in two months when I found John halfway through the project. I’m so glad he didn’t ask, and just got started, because I’ve fallen for it all over again. A new seat cover will take no time at all, so once he’s finished with the mouldings and fed the wood with beeswax, we’ll have a new chair for our bedroom.

I am under no illusions that either of us will actually sit on it. No, it’ll be where I lay my clothes out for the following morning. Old habits die hard, it seems, and it is so much easier to ease yourself out from under the covers if no thought is required. Besides, a pile of clothes you made yourself is always a little thrill. This morning’s selection was particularly pretty, in my eyes. Soon it’ll be too cold for my chambray peg trousers, so I’ve a pair planned in chocolate tweed as a second sample and winter alternative. The only question is which floral to use for the inner waistband and pockets.

First, though, I have another Snow Day jumper to knit. I let Fliss choose the wool, as it will be for her. This grey-pink is a little too lilac for my taste, but she loves it and I love knitting for her, so all is well. If you need me, I’ll be in my studio, knitting and taking tutorial photographs. Probably with a tea tray and a drama on the radio. Now that is a pleasure, and not a small one. I am looking forward to those hours.

Yet what might not come across in this post of crafting highlights is the hustle and bustle of our surrounding life. I got up at some ridiculous hour yesterday to take John to the station to catch a flight to Sweden, before a full day of work then home to children (who I love) and homework and dinner and packed lunches and laundry and ironing and washing up (which I don’t) and trying very hard to stay awake until it was time to collect them from Scouts (which I managed, only just). In between all of those things, nestled a row here and a row there of my Lionberry shawl, begun at the weekend and continued, all too briefly, in bed after my morning-taxi-driver run. I’ll be putting it aside now, until the sample jumper is gauge-swatched, knitted and blocked. But it’s there, coiled in the base of my basket, waiting for a moment when I need just five minutes of the small pleasure of wrapping wool around a needle and watching what emerges.

Madeleine

What’s bringing you pleasure at the moment?