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A Victorious Miette in Navy...

Friday, January 31, 2014
I know we're only one month into 2014 (already?!), but I feel like it's going to be safe to say that my newest make will probably be the one I'll be most proud of in 2014. This Navy Miette is my first, finished knitted garment ever!

It's also wearable, comfortable, warm, soft and, if you don't mind me saying so, it's DARN (yarn?) CUTE!

Navy Miette worn with my Christmas Anna Dress

I posted the beginnings of my Miette adventure in September last year and since then, my knitting sessions have come in fits and starts. You see, I've realised that I can't really pay much attention to anything else when I'm knitting. I can't watch anything I need to follow a plot line for, David ends up having a conversation with himself, and I'm there, on the couch, counting stitches, holding my breath and watching my needles. I just can't seem to focus on anything else.

I originally cast this cardigan on about 5 times all up. For some reason, I just couldn't seem to get past the first three to five rows without either adding a stitch or somehow dropping a stitch, no matter how careful I was or how slowly I went.  Eventually, on my 6th try, with an extra stitch somehow making an appearance yet again, I ended up knitting 2 stitches together to get the correct number and moved on. Sometimes, you've just gotta to admit defeat and come up with a creative solution, otherwise you'll never get anything done.

In November, Tasha announced the Knit for Victory challenge and I knew that having a deadline like that would be the boost I needed to get my Miette finished. And guess what? I finished with a whole two days to spare. Who would'da thunk it?

My Miette is in no way perfect. There are places where I lost count, couldn't remember what row I got up to or dropped stitches. There was even that time I knit my first sleeve on the wrong sized needle and I didn't have the heart to frog it so knit my second sleeve on the wrong size as well so that they would at least, yeah. I also probably should have knit up a size larger in the bust - it's not a major issue fit wise, but the shaping around the bust stretches a little too much for my liking. I guess figuring out negative-ease comes with time.

The only major thing I changed was to add 30 extra rows to the sleeves to make them longer and therefore more winter appropriate. I found that if I stopped where the instructions told me too then the sleeves would have been a weird length on me - too short for bracelet length, but too long for short sleeves - and I probably wouldn't have ended up wearing it.

I also opted to leave out the buttonholes in the pattern instructions. Instead, I hand-sewed on navy grosgrain ribbon to the back of each button band before doing them by machine. In hindsight, I'm not sure I'd do it this way again, but it works for this cardigan and I'm happy with how they turned out.

These cute wee buttons were bought especially for this cardigan. They were rather expensive buttons that David found in London last year at the V&A. They are ceramic with 2 little blue birds fluttering around on a white background. I'm not sure I'd ever buy buttons that expensive again, but they are gorgeous and go with the cardigan perfectly. As much as I loved the buttons, I wasn't sure I wanted to spend so much on them. But David, as he always is, was rather encouraging and told me that they could be part of a wedding anniversary gift so I wouldn't feel as bad about being so extravagant. 

Only a seamstress could be excited about getting buttons for a wedding anniversary, right?

All in all, I'd have to say that I rather like this knitting lark and have already bought a ruby-red wool for my next project - the Aiken Jumper.  

I knew that the hardest thing for me about being on a clothes buying ban this year would be that I couldn't buy any more vintage cardigans. I live in cardigans and love a having a big selection to choose from. Now I know that I'm perfectly capable of knitting my own, and I'm so proud to have mastered another creative skill.

So, have you ever thought about giving knitting a go?


Knitting for Victory - An Interview with Tasha from By Gum By Golly

Monday, January 27, 2014
Tasha from By Gum By Golly has some of the most amazing hand-knits I've seen. Her blog is a smorgasbord of knitting (and sewing!) inspiration, and as a novice knitter, I can only hope to get as good as her some day.

Tasha has been running the Knit for Victory challenge for the past three months, and as we near the finish line (victorious, I hope!), today I have a special little treat for you, an interview with Tasha herself.

If you've ever wanted to knit vintage patterns but have been a little put off by those pesky vintage instructions, Tasha goes into some pretty amazing detail about knitting with vintage patterns and how to modify the instructions into the modern day equivalent. But enough waffling from me, over to Tasha -

How long have you been knitting for and what got you started?
I’ve been knitting for 7 or 8 years now, I think. On a vacation about a year before I learned, I
taught myself to crochet from a booklet. During this time, my mom, who hadn’t knit since I was
little, was re-teaching herself to knit. In spite of my protests that I’d never be able to get the hang
of it, she was able to wear me down and teach me. It just goes to show you - don’t think you
can’t get the hang of it, too!

Tell us about how you came up with the Knit for Victory challenge?
Back late last winter, while Rochelle from Lucky Lucille was running her 1940s-inspired Sew for Victory challenge, she and I began talking about a similar challenge but for knitting. So the idea started nearly 9 months before the knit-along began!

You knit mostly from vintage patterns - any tips for those of us thinking of tackling one of 
Well that’s not entirely true - I do knit a good amount from modern patterns, too! But if it’s a
cardigan or pullover, I give it a vintage twist, if it doesn’t have one already. I love supporting
modern knitwear designers as much as I love knitting from original vintage patterns, too. It’s
something I’m passionate about.

That being said, I think if you consider yourself a confident beginner or intermediate knitter, dive
in with a vintage pattern! Vintage patterns tend to have less hand holding than many modern
patterns, but the glory of the Internet is that you can look up almost any term with which you’re
unfamiliar. I’d also highly recommend getting on Ravelry if you’re not already. It’s an amazingly helpful online community for knitters and crocheters. I’ve gotten lots of help on Ravelry over the years!

*Note from Jen - If you do join Ravelry, let's be friends! My page is here and Tasha's is here.

Many vintage patterns tell you to use a specific brand of wool or needle that may not exist 
these days. Any tips for converting vintage instructions into the modern day equivalent?

I usually go by gauge and weight of yarn used to make my own determination on what needle
size I think I’ll need or yarn I may want to use. For example, I tend to knit loose, so by default I
know I’m probably going to use a smaller needle size than the pattern calls for. Of course, this
doesn’t work if the pattern is obviously a very open, lacy sweater knit with large gauge needles,
but it’s my modus operandi for most patterns.

With vintage patterns, needle sizes can be compared to a chart that shows current and old needle
sizes, such as this one. Note that it shows old US and UK sizes, but I’ve also found non-UK patterns using the UK sizes, for reference. (For example, I have Patons & Baldwin booklets from both Canada and Australia and they use the UK needle sizes.)

So here’s how I’d work something out: I’m looking at a pullover pattern from the 40s, calling
for Beehive Caressa yarn and No. 4 and No. 3 size needles. I can tell from the picture it uses a
pretty thick yarn (not a thin and dainty knit), so that gives me an idea already. Looking at the
chart linked above, in the far right column, I see No. 4 and 3 are equivalent to 6mm and 6.5mm,
or US 10 and 10 ½ sizes. Those are pretty big needles - perfect for a bulky weight yarn. And the
pattern tension/gauge is 3 ½ stitches per inch and 5 rows per inch, which also jives with bulky
weight. Of course you’d want to swatch and make sure you like the stitch definition and feel of
your knitted fabric, but with a few knitting detective tricks, you’re well on your way!

Vintage knitting patterns and some modern patterns have mistakes in them. Are there any 
steps you use for eliminating these errors before you begin?
Fortunately I’ve rarely encountered mistakes in vintage patterns though perhaps I’m just lucky.
Of course, there’s no foolproof way to know ahead of time if a pattern has mistakes. However,
as a general rule it’s a good idea to really get to know the pattern you’re knitting before you
start. I talk about this in my Fitting a 1940s Pullover series where I discussed in depth how I broke down a vintage pattern and changed the gauge and yarn weight. It involved really getting to know the pattern.

I’d suggest swatching the pattern stitch and reading through the pattern to get an idea of what’s
going on. Make some notes. I’m personally a big proponent of not relying on the pattern’s stated
measurements alone, so I always double-check measurements, on modern and vintage patterns
alike. For example, I’ll see what the number of stitches are at the full bust, and compare it with
what the pattern says the garment will measure at the bust (or what size the pattern says it’s for,
because it doesn’t always tell you the finished measurement, and you can only guess at the ease
unless it’s explicitly stated). Even 2” of difference can make a big difference on your body. You
may have to dig a bit in the pattern to find this information, but it’ll be well worth your effort to
make sure the finished garment will end up the size you think it will. I never leave this to chance.

Anyway, these are all things that will help you better understand a pattern and feel more
confident with knitting in general!

You've just released your very first knitting pattern, the Victory Beret. What was the 
inspiration behind the pattern and how long did it take to write a pattern like this?
The inspiration to design Victory was based on the Knit for Victory knit-along! As I said, the
knit-along was planned months before, so I decided I wanted to release a pattern concurrent with
it. I knew I wanted it to be fair isle, and I wanted fans of 1940s styles to like it, but I wanted it to
have a broader appeal, too. So Victory was born!

There’s so many phases to the design process so I can’t really say how long it took to write it,
although actually writing up the pattern was probably the shortest part of the entire process,
honestly! I definitely spent more time learning how to layout a pattern for self-publishing than
writing it, ha ha. I started work on the actual design in early September during a relaxing trip and
the pattern was released at the beginning of November.

You can purchase the pattern to download on Ravelry here.

What favourite knitting vintage knitting patterns would you point beginner knitters like 
me to?
I recommend starting small if you’re more of a beginner and would like to test the waters with
vintage patterns, especially because there’s likely to be less unfamiliar terms in a pattern for an
accessory than, say, a cardigan. The very first vintage pattern I knit up when I was pretty much
a beginner was a bow knot scarf. There’s a couple of modern versions, like this one, but I’ve seen it in vintage booklets, too, and the instructions are pretty much exactly the same - very cute and chic, and easy. I’m actually working on another one right now!

A great resource for vintage patterns online is the Vintage Pattern Files. Wendy has done an extraordinary job collecting links to free vintage patterns. Across the top you can search by decade, and down the right sidebar you can search by time. Accessories are a great place to start! And soon you’ll be clamouring to branch out into sweaters, and by that point vintage patterns will hopefully feel a little less daunting!

Any encouraging words for those of us who haven't quite finished our Knit for Victory 
makes yet?
I know I personally have had some challenges thrown at me during our 3 months of Knit for
Victory! I just finished up my little bolero (which I had almost finished but frogged it because
I wasn’t completely happy with it), and only have to weave in ends and block it. I expected to
complete a whole lot more than I was able to accomplish, but that’s okay! I’ve been having a
blast seeing all of the creative projects that participants have been working on.

As far as I’m concerned, everyone who has participated in Knit for Victory is a winner!

Thanks so much Tasha for answering all my questions! Having pretty much finished my first ever actual knitted thing (it's currently blocking, then I'll sew on the grosgrain ribbon and buttons and then it's DONE!!!), talking to Tasha via email and having the Knit for Victory deadline has been a huge help for encouraging me to get it finished. 

I hope everyone has gotten the little boost they needed to finish their Knit for Victory make by the end of the week. I can't wait to see everyone's amazing creations.


An Education in Fabric Choice...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
After my last post talking about why we don't already wear our hand-mades, how funny that my latest make falls directly into the Uncomfortable category!

First up, this dress actually fits really well! I did have to grade it up a fraction in the bust, waist and hips and also shortened the dress quite significantly to a length I prefer to wear. It also fit's into my personal style and is on my Summer Sewing List. So, why is it going into the 'Hand-mades I'll never wear because they are uncomfortable' pile?

You guys, this is the grossest, crappiest fabric ever!

It's a charity shop fabric that I paid about $2 for (thank goodness!), so I can't really complain, but because of the fabric, this dress is completely unwearable. I'm pretty sure it's some kind of poly-cotton blend thingy, but whatever it is, it sticks to my legs even when worn with a slip (and no tights!), it crinkles when you walk (never a good sign unless you're using taffeta or similar and want to crinkle when you walk - a la Mammy's red petticoat in Gone with the Wind!) and for the life of me, I can't seem to iron out all the creases! Even though it looks ironed when I finish, any slight movement seems to cause a crease in the fabric, hence the reason I only managed to get 3 photos I liked.

I probably wouldn't even pay the $2 I spent on it now. The colour is it's only saving grace, but that just goes to show that just because it looks pretty, don't mean it's meant to / or should be worn.

I do plan to re-make this dress and I'll call the current version a non-wearable, but good fitting toile. I'm going to un-pick it, keep the vintage zip for something else, and take all the bias binding and elastic for my next version. No point in wasting good notions I say!

The rest of the fabric is being relegated to the rag pile. Good riddance!

Do you ever unpick bits of your un-wearable hand-mades to recycle? Or is it just me? (Please say it's not just me!).


Building & Wearing A Hand-made Wardrobe - Why We Don't Wear Our Hand-mades...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Welcome to the first post in my new series on how to build and wear a hand-made wardrobe. I wanted to start out by discussing what I think are the two main reasons why we don't necessarily already wear our hand-mades.

These two simple reasons ring very true for me and perhaps, once you give them some thought, they'll ring true for you as well -

  • What you make doesn't fit into your everyday uniform
  • They are uncomfortable to wear

Your Everyday Uniform
Everyone has their go to wardrobe staples. Whether it's jeans and t-shirts or dresses, your uniform is simply what you like to wear most often. It's probably your most comfortable outfit and you tend to have several colour ways and styles within your uniform. These colours and styles will also generally mix and match well so that you can create several different variations of your uniform for each day of the week. They are what probably makes up what you would consider your Wardrobe Basics.

Some beloved hand-made wardrobe basics worn during Me Made May 2013
- 60s Pink Wool Skirt - Red Circle Skirt - Blue Circle Skirt -

When I think about my personal uniform, it consists of skirts, dresses, cardigans and flats. Even though I have pants, I don't really wear them (in fact, I wore jeans for the first time in several years at Christmas when we spent the night on a boat in Doubtful Sound, NZ).

I also prefer relatively simple styles and designs in my uniform. While I'm happy to have a bright or patterned fabric, I like clean design lines and nothing too fussy. High waisted me-made circle skirts will always be a favourite - I wear one of these at least once a week and have 4 on regular rotation. They are easy to wash and wear, go with a host of different tops and they make me feel like I've made an effort to get dressed, even though I really haven't.

Your everyday uniform can also be different from your style. Personally, my everyday uniform and my style really do go hand in hand. But for others, while they may love the thought of wearing a full skirted 50's dress everyday, in reality, what they may wear from day to day is drastically different due to any number of reasons. What they do for a job, the climate they live in, whether they are running around after children etc. Practicality has to play a role in everybody's wardrobe.

More beloved hand-mades worn during Me Made May 2013
- Polkadot Billie Jean - Red Circle Skirt - Black Circle Skirt -

Also, while it's great to have special occasion pieces, if that's all you're sewing, then the reality is that most of what you make, you won't actually end up wearing. I wrote a little piece last year about my love for sewing the basics (or cake, as Tasia so lovingly put it). I love sewing them because it means I'll most certainly wear them. It means I've made good use of my sewing time.

Uncomfortable Hand-mades
Going back to my first Me Made May last year, like many people, towards the end it got quite hard as I was forced to pull out and wear those things that had sat in my wardrobe ever since I had finished making them. While I would have loved to wear circle skirts for most of the month (like usual), since I was photographing my outfit everyday, that would have got a tad boring don't you think?

So, I'd pull out a garment, wonder why on earth I hadn't worn it since it was made, put it on and then remember why it had been relegated to the 'not easily accessible' bit of our tiny wardrobe. Almost every single time, that garment was uncomfortable.

A garment can be 'uncomfortable' for many reasons, the most common are bad fit, an unflattering shape, bad fabric choice (or cheap crappy fabric) or all of the above. And I don't know about you, but I really don't have much time for wearing uncomfortable things! (Though funnily enough, I just don't have the heart to get rid of them yet!).

A few hand-mades that don't get worn much (for varying reasons) from Me Made May 2013

When I am wearing uncomfortable clothing, I tend to be extremely self conscious. I am so aware of myself that I spend far too much time wondering if people are staring at me while I fiddle with x, y & z on my garment. To be fair, most of the time people are far too fixated on what is going on in their own lives to notice the gaping on the front of my dress, or the wrinkles that just wouldn't iron out because of the crappy fabric I used, but it doesn't matter, I'm still uncomfortable.

Perhaps I care a little too much about what the stranger in the bus thinks about me, but if I'm feeling that uncomfortable in a garment, then I'm not going to wear it. After all, what you wear can have a huge impact on how you are feeling from day to day. If you're having a bad day but wearing something that makes you feel amazing, that bad day perhaps won't have as much an impact as it might have if you were also wearing something that made you feel frumpy, itchy, confined (or not confined enough!) and down right uncomfortable.

If you're one of those people who hates sewing uniform basics, I hope you'll look at them in a different light. And if you don't sew the basics because they aren't challenging to you anymore, then why not take them up a notch? Sew them with French Seams, try out a rolled hem, use a different fabric or put your zipper in using a different technique than you usually would. This way, not only are you up-skilling in the sewing department, but you'll have started to build a wearable hand-made wardrobe in no time!

So folks, let's go forth and start planning our comfy and wearable Hand-made Wardrobes! Yay!

Are there any other reasons why you don't wear your current hand-mades?


Introducing...Rosie Wednesday

Sunday, January 12, 2014
I love a good vintage outfit, especially when it's been made from scratch using a vintage pattern. So today, I'd like to introduce you to a lady who does all that and more, Lauren from Rosie Wednesday.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your blog
I'm Lauren and I blog at Rosie Wednesday: Adventures in Vintage-Style Sewing.  Rosie and Wednesday are the names of my sewing machines, for perfectly silly reasons. I blog finished looks, vintage inspiration, and am venturing more and more into tutorials. I am particularly passionate about fit. I think it's a really challenging topic to understand, especially if you are a self-taught sewer like I am, and can make such a difference in your garment sewing if you do.

Why did you start sewing?
When I was about 11 years old, I participated in a creative competition where you made up a skit, among other things. I started sewing to make costumes for our team. My first costume was for a character called "Lacy Lettuce" that I played. I just traced an outline of a dress, cut out 2 pieces from that outline, and stitched it together. Then I hand stitched a bunch of "leaves" cut out of fabric. The skit also featured a pink sewing machine that came to life to help my character!  After making costumes, I was determined to make a pair of pyjama pants and follow a pattern. I was hooked after that!

So to begin, it was really about creative expression. Over the years though, it's become my way to relax and unravel my mind and a way for me to create the wardrobe of my imagination!

Do you get up to any other crafty adventures?
I love to embroider and do cross stitch. I've dabbled a bit in knitting, am just getting started on knitting my first sweater. After a lot of starts and stops, I am officially addicted! It's all I did over the holidays, other than eating.

What has been your greatest sewing achievement so far?
I took a pattern making class in 2013, and starting drafting my own patterns. It was tremendously exciting, and I learned a ton! I've also found those skills to be very helpful in better understanding fit and altering a pattern for you. I love the 2 dresses I made from that class, and can't wait to do more.

And have there been any crafty-related disappointments?
Oh gollies, don't we all have them? I remember in college, I sewed a dress to wear to an event, and the fit was atrocious. It was way too big and kept falling down at the bust. It was a party out on a boat, and I kept a life vest on the entire evening because it was so embarrassing!

Invisible zip, lapped zip or centre zip?
Lapped zip. I struggled a lot with nice-looking lapped zippers on the machine, but I just learned a new technique that fixed all my troubles. I'll have a video tutorial on it soon as part of the Shift Dress Sew Along I'm currently hosting.

What’s currently on your sewing table?
A wintery plaid Hawthorn from Colette patterns.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Thankfully, I found my professional passions early in my career! I work in user experience for a living which basically means it's my job to make sure our website is easy to use. It's a mix of a lot of wonderful disciplines - library science, publishing, and psychology to name a few. I am fortunate enough to really love my job, although I doubt anyone would be surprised to learn I'd rather spend all my days sewing!

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about learning to sew?
Have fun!! You'll hate sewing if you hold yourself to some impossible standard, and besides, that's what seam rippers are for! Plus, there is a wonderful sewing community online that is so generous with their time and talents. You can rely on them (including me!) to help you get started.

Head on over to Lauren's blog and check out some of her amazing sewing tutorials. I think I need to give her neckline darts a go, aren't they such a gorgeous and unique detail?


Are you a sewing/knitting/crocheting/baking/vintage/ cat-loving/creative/crafty/awesome owner of a blog? Do you want to be featured in an interview and introduced to some of your other bloggy pals? Well then, flick me an email to with a link to your blog and any other tidbits you feel like sharing and we'll arrange an imaginary internet tea and cake date and get to know each other a little better!

That 40's Vogue Again...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Thanks so much for all of your kind comments on my last post - all that encouragement will certainly be a help when my will is waning (as I'm sure it no doubt will!). It's also very exciting that some of you are also up for the challenge of not buying any new (or new to you) clothing this year. Perhaps we need to start a club so we can call on each other for help when we are on the verge of pushing 'Make Payment' on our over stuffed virtual shopping carts?  Let me know if you're interested and I'll sort something out.

Moving right along. This is my third version of Vogue 8728. It is not however, my first make of 2014. In fact, I made it last year around September just before we left Sydney, and never got around to photographing it. 

I won't go into any construction details because I did all that when I blogged about my first version here - and just in case you were wondering, yes, I do address the gathering at the bust! And then, if you felt like seeing my second version, it's blogged right here.

This green version is made out of a beautiful, soft, wool blend knit that came in the form of a 3metre remnant on sale (does anyone else think '3metre remnant' is a bit of an oxymoron?). I still have some left and am scheming up a plan to turn it into a 40's-ish long sleeved top for winter - we'll see how that goes.

Speaking of green, can someone please remind me to make more green things? I love this colour but I seem to have tunnel vision when looking at fabric and am always attracted to blues.

It's pretty safe to say that all three of these dresses have become wardrobe staples for me. I wear one of the three versions at least once a week because they are so comfortable and so easy to wash and wear. Also, since they are knit, they don't require an iron which is a major bonus since almost all of my other dresses do. 

I really do need to make more knit dresses - any suggestions?


My Hand Made Year - 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2014

I always enjoy the start of a new year. It's a chance to wipe the slate clean, set new goals and put learnings from the past year to good use. While I know that you can (and should) to do all these things during the year as well, the beginning of a fresh new one always inspires new beginnings and optimism for the future. So, with all that said and as I alluded to in my last post, I have one rather major sewing goal for this shiny brand new year...

In 2014, I will not buy any new or new-to-me clothing. I will sew every garment I need with the exception of underwear, socks, stockings and shoes.

Yup, you read it right here folks!

I'm also going to be writing a regular series on my blog about how to incorporate Me-Mades into your current wardrobe, break down the daunting task of beginning to make a Me-Made wardrobe in the first place, post regular outfit posts of me wearing my Me-Mades in my every day life and have a bunch of helpful tutorials, links and interviews on making a Me-Made wardrobe as well as how to incorporate more Me-Mades into your home.

All of these posts will of course have a slight vintage lean, but I hope that everything I have to say about the subject will translate well into any style or look you may be going for.

I'm pretty excited about all of the things I have planned, and I hope you, my fellow sewists, readers, dabblers, lurkers, tea (and coffee) drinkers, cat-lovers and vintage enthusiasts, will find at least something inspiring or of use to you this year.

Here is to a happy 2014, filled with lots of Me-Mades, cheer and good fun!


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