A5 leather folio miniature paper prototype

This weekend, i noticed that i was going to interviews a lot. I mean quite a lot. Three a week? Maybe that was just a one time thing. Anyway. So it occurred to me that maybe i should get myself a nice present. A nice leather present. Maybe the kind that zips up, contains my notebook, and the iPad, pens and stylus.

So of course I went to Smythson, where I found this for £335.

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And then I dropped into Harrod’s, where only one design stood out. It was too small and all plastic, but a good design. (It’s by Ted Baker and barely £30)

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Later, pausing for coffee, I stole a page off my partner’s notebook and pocketmodded it. Then i doodled my prototype ideas into it, as if it actually was a folio, in miniature.

I made two versions of the outside and inside. Photos below.

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I then bought some leather and (just today, on myfabrics.co.uk) zippers. Total spend so far: £73.

Practice makes perfect… dresses for little girls

The lovely man i have been with for two years now got me a present this winter. He sponsored the acquisition of an amazing Bernina 330.

Here are some unboxing photos of that legend of swiss engineering.

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Thing is… I do not know how to use these fancy things. I’ve always used old machines. By old i mean late 19th or early 20th century. So. What to do?

Well, this calls for a new project, of course. With infallible (and humble, clearly) logic, i concluded that making a dress for myself might use most of the stitches, but would take forever. So. What to do?

Fortunately, i have an almost-niece. The lovely man’s brother has a daughter. I’ve never met her in person, but i’ve seen her on skype dozens of times. She’s going to be 18 months old very soon, and is adorable.

So a plan, and project, hatched: make a dress for my man’s niece. If I muck it up, i will have destroyed a lot less fabric than if i tried to make a dress for myself. If i succeed, she ends up with a lovely new summer dress of my own devising.

Here is a photo story of how this project is going.

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laptop in a sporran? Going hands-free and backpain-free while carrying tech

(written in February 2014, published in March 2014)

Since portable technology appeared on the market, I have carried it. These days, I carry my own laptop to work every day as well. The joys of contracting… you’ve got to bring your own hammer to most workplaces, as it were. I’ve been doing this every day since September and my back is starting to be seriously damaged by it. Every day, standing on a crammed carriage, swerving around on the tracks, getting bumped, while carrying a laptop and everything else.

Last night, I had enough. TFL has announced two sets of 48-hour strikes, the first to hit from tonight. Transport mayhem! It would make carrying my tech even more painful. So I decided to take action.

I have always hated backpacks. You cannot keep them on your shoulders in public transport. If you put them down, and it has been raining, they get all wet and muddy, so your coat gets dirty when you strap the bag on again. I have a very good coat. Mud is not happening. So I’m constantly lifting the entire weight of my tech.

Messenger bags are ok, but you end up wearing them cross-body, tilting yourself one way or the other, and the whole weight of laptop plus accessories being carried by a single 1-inch (a bit more if you’re lucky) strap. That would often cut into my shoulder very painfully, despite the padded part of the strap and my thick coat.

Holding the laptop in a shopper causes the same problems (thin straps, one-sided lift on spine and lower back muscles).

The last option, the satchel / attache case, would rely on arm strength and would still be pulling at my spine and shoulders.

I needed to find something that could carry my laptop but which would not rely on shoulder and lower back muscles. What else have we got? Gun holsters! Sporrans! Controversial fanny packs! Belts! You might be getting the picture already…

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So far, it works incredibly well. I need to make a better buckle for easier removal, and of course give it better finishings. Some bias tape will take care of that. Taking over the world, one crazy bag idea at a time!

white wool crepe dress – part 2

Progressing!

I spent a day at a friend’s house this week and used a new sewing machine she had just gotten. LOVED the machine! So simple, it does everything I need it to do, has a seam cutter, easy reverse stitch to start and end your seams, and a very delicate pedal to control speed. Excellent machine! It is now on my amazon wishlist!

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Here are some photos of the work progressing. The trickiest bit was hand-stitching, with microscopic invisible stitches, the cuffs, so the lining would not show when they’re flipped over.

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This is the dress as it stands (or lies.. heh) now. A work in progress, but looking good! I’m missing the zip, the hem, buttons on the cuffs and some invisible stitches to finish a few things, like the collar, the cuffs, and any other details I notice.

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This will have been the dress that it took me the longest to do. It is also the most complex project I have undertaken. I did make a wedding dress, but that didn’t have sleeves. Or a waistband piece. Nor was it fully lined. Nor did it have cuffs! Honestly, if I pull this off, I’ll know I am able to tackle much more ambitious projects.

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white wool crepe dress – part 1

My latest project’s pattern comes from burda. I saw the magazine on a trip to Bavaria, and bought it. Amusingly, it is all in German, which makes making the dress a lot harder as I cannot follow the instructions!!

I loved the shape, so I decided to turn it into my holiday project. We’re in January now, and it’s still not finished, but I still think of it as my holiday project given I started it over the Christmas holidays. Maybe I’ll wear it to dinner for Valentine’s with The Man. We’ll see.

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I bought a lightweight wool crepe from a shop on Goldsworth road in London, near Shepherd’s bush. Specifically, it was from Unique fabric’s, a really small place with some very good natural fabrics. While I was there I could not resist and I picked up a viscose-cotton blend that was obscenely soft and inexpensive! Curious to see what I’ll make of it. Most likely a summer dress of some kind.

Step one was, as usual, copying the pattern off the burda sheets onto new sheets. I did it with a small Sharpie I have, which writes in blue. I loved the effect on the paper and was surprised it did not bleed through onto the burda pages.

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I then cut the fabric, both outer wool crepe and inner satin cotton lining (the light pink you’re seeing in the photo) together in one shot (across 4 layers), using pinking shears.

Assembly started off easily and quickly. First the required darts, then putting together the bodice, then the skirt, and then attaching them together. Getting the princess point in the waistline was a challenge. I think I managed. But attaching the bodice to the skirt was another challenge, which I decided to take in two steps. First, I attached the wool outer bodice to the wool outer skirt. And ideally I would then have sewn the lining sides together. But. I did not feel that the wool was strong enough to hold the entire weight of the skirt up on its own, so given I’d made the skirt with the lining thickening up the wool, I decided to hand-stitch the waist seam across all layers, in a neat little seam that would hold the weight. It took a while, but it wasn’t too hard to do.

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The tricky bit was the sleeves. At this point I was on holiday at my parents’ where there are no working sewing machines as far as I am told. So I stitched everything by hand, much like I had to for the teal silk dress over the summer. Given I was just putting together sleeves, and it was going to be delicate pleating work anyway, I was happy to do that by hand. Now that I’ve come home though I’ll be taking the sleeve apart on the long seam, and restitching the lining and outer long seams separately along the stitching line I put in by hand. The shape is fine, and cuff works, I just need it to be fully straight and with a clean inside seam.

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My next challenge, and which will be part of the next post, is to make cuffs to put on the sleeves. I have never made cuffs before. I am terrified. But it’ll be worth it I think. That dress looks really nice!!

Alexander McQueen sample sale?!

A friend went to a meeting in the building where, last night, there was an ALEXANDER MCQUEEN SAMPLE SALE!!! (this is for 2013)

I only just found out. Googled it. And realised I cannot make it there today or tomorrow. I’m gutted. Maybe next season. Definitely next season!

In the meantime, anyone who can go, should!

If I read the comments on that posting page, you need to print this image and show it at the door. It is your invitation. Enjoy!! And share the loot using #seamstressSophie ?

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Indestructible travel card holders: coming soon!!

Ok. So maybe not “indestructible”. But if you use one of my travel card holders and it falls apart (you know, how the plastic ones do?) within a year of purchase, i’ll make you an identical new one for free! Yes, this applies to sit-on-it-daily young men too. No guarantees on the cards contained though!

If you opt for the rip-stop canvas one, guarantee extends to two years.

I’m slightly overpromising here, as I’ve only made two holders in my life. A quick and dirty v.1 prototype, and a v.2 iteration with improvements. Both are made in ripstop canvas, and refusing to look anything but cool and grungy and solid.

Two weeks ago, while paying for a pub lunch with colleagues, one of the guys noticed my little holder. He loved it and would happily buy one if they were on sale as he uses the format constantly, and has to replace it every month or so. Last week, another friend made the exact same comment. Uses it a lot, but it falls apart. Two days ago, rewind, play. Another friend. Railcard holder this time. Similar destructive scenario. Seamstress Sophie had to step in…

Therefore, a decision has been reached and is now being made public. I will be making travel card holders in three formats “solo”, “twosome” and “threesome”. Materials will involve leather or ripstop canvas for the outer, and fabric for the inner pockets, because leather would make it too thick. No plastic.

When will these be available? Ummm… I’m not sure. I will aim to make a few prototypes for people to test for me during October.

I already have three volunteers, and would love 2 more. Ideally, one would be a woman, so I can get more feedback on the handbag-fishing scenario. Leave a comment if you’re interested and I’ll get back to you!

Here are the sketches.

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This post was also published on http://exintaris.com/seamstressSophie.

The teal silk dress

A long overdue post, because I finished the dress and wore it in July.

This dress posed three huge challenges.

1 – I’d never worked with sandwashed silk before, and it’s a very delicate fabric

2 – I lost my trusty shift dress pattern, and had to create a pattern using my own body measurements from scratch

3 – My mother’s sewing machine was eating my fabric and tearing holes in it last time I used it. She confirmed it was “broken”, and so I was left with needing to hand-stitch every single part of this dress.

How did it go? Well let’s just say I’ve never worked harder in my life on a dress. And I made a friend’s wedding dress last year! This was harder. Less stressful, because I did have a backup plan for what to wear… But harder, for the three reasons listed above.

How did it go? Scroll past the photos to read a short version of the highlights.

I was lucky enough to have found, a few days before leaving, this amazing book on pattern making. It’s very simple, has practically no instructions, but for someone who can solve complex mathematical equations and likes building IKEA things without instructions (or, ok, confirming her guesses before ending up with a table instead of a bookcase…), it was enough.

One of the photos above shows me being creative and trying to use baking paper as my pattern paper. An excellent idea. Except I pulled the paper out of the roll, and had about 30cm in my hand. It was empty. And as I started this on a Sunday when shops are closed all over Greece… well… I was lucky to find some IKEA craft paper nearby.

The first version of the dress had no straps on the shoulders. Seeing how it sat, however, I had to do something, and decided to add straps. I made them by hand, each stitch done by hand, and flipped once I was done. I used an interesting trick and stitched thread inside the tube. I’d attached it at one end, kept it inside the tube I was stitching (while inside out), and when it was ready to flip, I used that thread to pull it inside-out! Worked like a charm 🙂 Of course I had to be careful and not tug at the thread until I broke it. It was more about using it to help ease the fabric through. It made a huge difference though!

The fitting was a bit difficult, as I had limited assistance from my mom. She likes things very loose, I like them well-fitted. In retrospect, having had dinner in the dress and danced for more than 5 hours wearing it, I should have made it a little bit looser. My stitches held beautifully (I was more surprised than you are), and the dress looked amazing.

Another trick I used to help the cowl drape properly. I noticed the dress was falling backwards. Normal, given how I’d cut it. So I decided to weigh it down on the front. I made tiny pouches from the same fabric as the dress, put three loonies ($1 coins from Canada) in each, and stitched them closed, and to the base of the straps on the front of the dress. I had to secure them on the sides, too, as they had a tendency to dangle and get in the way. They held really well through the night, and even through the subsequent handwashing of the dress. I didn’t have to tug at my neckline, it stayed where it was supposed to be, which was great!

What I learnt:
– You CAN make a dress entirely by hand. But you really don’t want to. It takes forever.
– If you’re going to dance in a dress and feed in a dress, leave yourself a couple of inches of room for it.
– Making a pattern from body measurements involves some guesswork and 3-dimensional magic (which I’m not sure I possess)
– You can make a gorgeous silk shift dress with barely 1m of material (at £15/m, this is a bargain dress!) and it looks stunning. I did spend a good 20 hours making it though, so your call.

Final sketches and draft handmade pattern for a new dress

I want to make a dress to wear to a friend’s wedding this weekend. Yes. This weekend. In 5 days. I’m not sure I’ll manage, but my sketchbook looks more optimistic.

I have the fabric, the zip, the matching thread and the dress idea.

Alas, mother says the (terrible anyway) sewing machine we have here is broken. And, more critically, i do not have a pattern to make the dress with. So here i am exploring designs, taking measurements, and trying to make my first ever pattern from scratch. Well. First ever non-jersey pattern.

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(Also posted on exintaris.com)