Sewing as Therapy


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Embroidered beads in the making

Yesterday I went to a meeting of the WearTo? Group of the WA Embroiderers’ Guild, and tried my hand at making beads from fabric. I’ve seen this done before, and the results can be fantastic, mine have a little way to go! The idea is to embellish small strips of fabric with either hand or machine embroidery, then glue them on to strips of felt which are then rolled up to form tube beads. I started with some small odd shaped scraps and stitched them together crazy patchwork fashion first, then did some embroidery. That was as far as I got, I need to get some felt, and possibly figure out how to make the beads without glue, when I try to glue things I’m generally not very successful. All in all a fun day, and very different from the useful and rather mundane shopping bags I have been making lately.

I got to thinking on the drive home about creativity as therapy. The others in the group are all ordinary people, with the difficulties and challenges that we all face, but it seems that we all put those things aside for a few hours to focus on being creative, and taking some time for ourselves. As a result, there is lots of positive energy in the room, and that can’t be a bad thing.
I have to admit that what I’m going to say now can be applied to other creative arts, painting, knitting, woodwork, making music or model aeroplanes, but sewing is my thing so that’s what I focus on.
I believe sewing can be therapy, and it seems plenty of other people feel the same. Sewing and other creative pursuits have been shown to reduce stress, increase positive feelings, improve immune function, and even to protect the brain from diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia. When you are absorbed in creating something there is less room in your consciousness for negative or depressing thoughts. When you learn how to do something new you improve communication between different parts of the brain and may also improve the function of your memory. When you succeed in creating something you receive a boost to your self-esteem. When you wear something you have made and somebody compliments you on it the boost is even bigger. When you make something beautiful for yourself you are nurturing yourself, and we can all use some nurturing. When you make something beautiful for somebody else you are nurturing them and strengthening your relationship.
I don’t need to go on, do I?! Sewing is a great hobby (which is not to say that it’s better than any other creative hobby), but I and so many other people I know get wonderful satisfaction out of being creative and making something from fabric and thread. What are your thoughts?


Meet Myrtle


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Some time ago I saw a post on the Australian Sewing Guild’s Facebook page about a pattern for a do it yourself dress form which was available from Bootstrap Fashions. A few weeks later another member wrote a review of her experience making the form, and that decided me to have a go myself. And here is the result!

do it yourself dress form

Meet Myrtle!

Bootstrap Fashions have a website where you can order patterns for clothing customised to your own measurements, and they also offer a pattern and instructions for making a dress form. The site is very easy to use, although obviously a certain amount of honesty and realism is required. It’s no good putting in the measurements you would like to be, the result won’t be very useful! At an ASG workshop earlier this year we all took honest and accurate measurements, working in pairs, and I used those to create my pattern. There are other questions, such as how upright your posture is, how flat your bottom is, etc.with a little drawing of each one, and you pick one from each category. The pattern is generated, and sent to you as a pdf.

I know some people have a horror of printing multiple page pdf patterns, sticking them all together and cutting out the pieces, but I didn’t find it too bad. Because the pattern pieces are relatively small, (there is no ease), my pattern was only 21 pages of A4, and I didn’t find it too hard. You can order a version for a print shop though.

I had the blue and white check fabric in my stash, I think I was given it at some point, and I was unlikely to make a garment out of it, so I thought it would be a nice change to use it instead of the more conventional calico. The checks make it easy to see vertical and horizontal grainlines, although I could have been a little more accurate in cutting out, some checks don’t match very well. Because the fabric was quite a loose weave I decided to stabilise it with iron on interfacing, and that took some time. An ironing press would speed up the process, but I don’t use fusible interfacing much so that’s not top of my wish list.

Cutting out and stitching together was pretty easy, the stitching lines all matched well, and it was exciting to see Myrtle start to take shape. I had thought I would need to sew in the armhole and neck pieces by hand, but they went together by machine quite simply.

The pattern is designed to have a sleeve of fabric up the middle, which you slide a PVC pipe into, and then use the pipe to stand the form on some kind of support. Possibly the bottom of an office chair, the base of a pedestal fan, or you could make your own support from timber. In my case I already had a very old and battered adjustable dress form, so I just used the pattern to make a new cover for the form, and added padding where required. I used an old T shirt to cover the form first, so that all the padding I was going to add didn’t just fall into the hollow space inside the original form. I cut a piece of thin plywood to shape for the base, and made a hole in the middle for the support.

Because I wasn’t following the pattern exactly I improvised a little with the construction. I wanted to put the base in, so that I had something to stop the stuffing falling out of the bottom, but I had already stitched up all the other seams. In the end I put the cover on the old form, and added the base, hand stitching it to the cover. That meant I had to undo some bits of the seams I had already stitched in order to get the stuffing in, next time I might try to figure out a different way of doing this part.

I stuffed until I felt the form was sufficiently full, but not overstuffed. I kept checking her measurements against mine, and tried to get a realistic shape. Then I just stitched up the seams I had undone. I made a small pincushion in the same fabric, and added a magnetic bag fastener to the top of Myrtle’s neck, and a curtain weight in the pincushion, so that it sits there ready to use. Since I used the ready made dress form as a base, her height is adjustable, which will be useful for skirt and dress hems.

pincushion on top of dress form

Pincushion ready for use

All told, I am very pleased with the way Myrtle turned out (the name just came into my head, but maybe I was subconsciously aware of Kate Winslett’s character in The Dressmaker). I have already used her to drape a pattern for a very simple cotton top (another post to come!), and although I have not really done any pattern draping before I think that now I have a realistic dress form there are endless possibilities!

Tilted Star – a quilt for a new family member


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I don’t consider myself a quilter, I’m not nearly passionate enough about it for that, but I have been known to knock out the odd quilt when a special occasion demands one. Major birthdays, weddings and so on. So a quilt was definitely required to mark the arrival of an addition to the family.

I picked up a couple of books from the library with fairly modern designs, and settled on a ’tilted star’ block from a book called Vintage Quilt Revival by Katie Blakesley, published by Interweave.

I knew the nursery colour scheme was to be grey with touches of yellow and aqua, so I raided all the local fabric shops for those colours in prints vaguely suitable for a baby, along with a backing, border and white for the ground around the stars. I was quite pleased to find the white, since it has little baby feet printed on it, they are also white so don’t show up unless you look really closely, but I felt it was a nice touch.

The book suggests making this blog using a paper template and foundation piecing, but I looked at the design and decided that I could do it by cutting shapes and stitching them together, and it would be simpler. I’m guessing that the suggestion to use foundation piecing came about because lots of the joins are on the bias, and using paper adds stability and helps to stop stretching. However, by being careful and using the walking foot on my machine I managed to do a reasonable job. Some of the points of the stars don’t quite line up with edges of the squares, but the inaccuracies are within my tolerance range.

Quilt detail

One thing I did, which would have been less likely if I’d done foundation piecing, was to cut quite a few of the triangles the wrong way round. Some of them are symmetrical, and it didn’t matter which way round they were, but the longer ones are asymmetrical, and I have quite a few left over which I couldn’t use because I had cut them wrong. Also, because I bought more fabric than I needed, I have added to my stash of quilting fabric yet again!

I also changed the design a little, deciding to add sashing in between each of the blocks to make the stars more distinct, as otherwise I felt they all ran into each other rather.

Tilted star baby quilt

Since piecing the front of the quilt was quite complicated, I decided to make the quilting itself simpler (just to make things easier for myself really). I chose a cotton batting, which needed quilting only every 6 inches or so, so my quilting design is just freehand wavy lines drawn along the length of the quilt, about 3 or 4 inches apart. That part of the project went very quickly, and I think it looks good.
I wanted a wide binding for this quilt, I think that frames the quilt nicely, but in the past when I’ve tried I’ve got into real trouble with mitering the corners. This time I found a tutorial on Youtube which explains it well, the secret is that you need extra fabric to allow for the width of the binding. Sadly I can’t now find the tutorial, but I did take one photo to remind myself of the technique.

Quilt binding detail

Finally, I added a label to the back of the quilt, with the baby’s name, date of birth, and other details. I think it’s really important to add this information to quilts since it’s an important historical record for so many antique quilts, although I must admit that in these days of digital photos, social media and other information sharing and recording methods, it might be a bit of an anomaly. It makes me happy anyway, how about you?

Inspired by Koos van den Akker


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This tunic is my first foray into recycling with stretch fabrics, which I find presents a whole array of new challenges! These are not knit fabrics, but stretch wovens, which I happily picked up in the op-shop because I liked the print on one, and the others went with it. I paid no regard to the stretch factor! This was a garment I started at the first meeting of the Wear To? group of the Embroiderers’ Guild earlier this year.

I more or less self drafted the pattern, and I say more or less because I actually cobbled it together from a couple of commercial patterns, and kind of filled in the gaps. I made a muslin, which fitted not too badly, and went ahead with the recycling.

I chose to make the tunic using a colour blocking technique, but instead of dividing the pattern pieces up using straight lines, which would be more usual, I chose to use curved organic shapes. I actually derived these from the shapes on the printed fabric, I just took a photo of the fabric, printed it out, and then sketched the shapes larger onto the muslin. Then I cut that up, and used it as a pattern to cut the sections of the tunic.

A combination of inaccuracy when cutting out, and the stretchiness of the fabrics, meant that when I stitched the pieces together the front of the tunic didn’t lie flat. Even when it was lying on the table it looked as if somebody was inside it. I held it up against myself and it looked even worse. It was largely the olive green pieces, for some reason they had grown, and I figured that somehow I needed to shrink them again. I certainly wasn’t going to unpick the seams and re-cut them, so what to do? Some others at the workshop came to study my problem, and the suggestion was made that I just stitch some tucks in that piece of the garment to take up the fullness. That seemed like a good way out, so I made the tunic as flat as I could on the table, and pinned tucks into it which reduced the lumpiness. Then I whipped over the tucks using a variegated embroidery thread to turn them into a decorative feature.

I continued to put the rest of the tunic together, but still felt it needed something else. I had an image in the back of my mind of a garment made by Koos van den Akker, with machine stitching in a random zigzag pattern over the seamlines. So I threaded up my machine with two different colours of thread at once, and went over all the seamlines with free machine embroidery. I quite like the result – I’ve tried channeling Koos’ work before with very limited success, but I’m happier with this effort.

Even though I’m reasonably happy with the result, I’m still not sure it’s a garment I would wear in public. I did wear it yesterday though at another workshop with the same group of people, but the great thing about such workshops is that people will comment with interest about what you are wearing, and don’t look at you strangely when you say ‘I made it myself’.

Origami Pockets


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I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of origami using fabric instead of paper, it’s just one of the many things I plan to explore further one day when I have more time. (I’m not sure when that day will come, but never mind!) So at a recent meeting of my neighbourhood group of the Australian Sewing Guild I took the chance to make a sample origami pocket.

Actually, as folding fabric goes, this is pretty simple. Check out the work of a guy called Jeffrey Rutzky, author of the books Shadowfold and Kirigami. I couldn’t find his website, perhaps he doesn’t have one, but there are plenty of images of his work online and they are amazing.

Our pockets were basically a welt pocket with a triangular opening, and three lips to fill that opening, all different shapes and angles. Mine looked like this:

Origami pocket sample

I wasn’t careful enough about the placement of the pieces, not realising at the time how important it was, so mine has a hole in the middle, all of the lips should actually meet. But, I could turn this into a design feature by making my pocket bag to go behind it from some contrasting material, and make it look as if it was intended to be that way!

I did a quick Google search but I couldn’t see a tutorial for making these particular pockets. I think originally they may have been in a Threads magazine article. There is a YouTube video of a guy called Arif Khan making what looks roughly like the same thing, only he uses knit fabric, which I think adds another layer of difficulty. There are also lots of other ideas for decorative and original pockets, room for yet more experimentation and play. What’s your favourite?

Free Machine Embroidered Lace


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An inspiring and creative day on Saturday with the WearTo? group of the Embroiderers’ Guild of Western Australia. We did a workshop on using water soluble stabiliser to create lace, or fabric, or really anything you want to create! There are several different types of water soluble stabiliser, but, as the name suggests, they all wash away in water. By stitching on one or more layers of stabiliser, and adding threads, scraps of fabric, silk or wool tops, it’s possible to create anything from the whispiest airiest lace, to a solid fabric to a piece of sculpture. The latter requires some kind of fabric stiffener, but if you retain the stabiliser in the fabric, just melt it and let it dry again in a different shape, it works quite well as a stiffener, and even the opaque type is clear once it has been melted.

I didn’t take any photos of the samples during the day, which was silly, but by trawling the net for images came up with the following.

One talented user of the technique is Linda Matthews, and there is another tutorial on Urban Threads, although that is using machine embroidered patterns, we did free machine embroidery in this workshop. There are also numerous examples on Pinterest.

I did take a photo of my sample, which didn’t come out quite as I expected, but that’s the whole point of a sample.


I had gaily laid down some threads, and scraps of fabric, and stitched over them all to hold them together. I used a layer of black sheer fabric underneath, which meant I didn’t have to be quite so careful about making sure all the lines of stitching joined up. If you don’t use any fabric underneath, all the stitching has to join together, or the lace will fall apart, or at least have bigger holes in it than you intended! I assumed that by piling on all the threads and scraps they would somehow meld together, but of course they didn’t, the pieces I put on top were still on top after I had done the stitching, and the bobbin thread was completely hidden by the sheer black fabric. If I were going to do a similar piece again I would layer the threads and fabric more carefully, probably weaving them over and under each other so that they were exposed in some areas but not in others, and would also only use black thread in the bobbin.


I then worked on another piece, which isn’t anywhere near finished, using just white fabric and thread, and strips of fabric criss-crossing over each other to make a grid. As you can see, the stabiliser I used is quite opaque, which makes it harder to envisage the finished effect, but it’s also more sturdy than some others I have used, so easier to work on. I didn’t use a hoop, whereas I think with the more plastic type of stabilisers you really need one. The stabiliser I used is Soluvlies by Vleiseline, sometimes referred to (I think translated) as Solufleece, which is a bit misleading as it’s not a fleece at all.

I’m not really sure how this piece will turn out, but it will be interesting. I haven’t yet decided what would be the best way of stitching the strips together, so I’m trying different options. Again, I guess that’s the whole point of a sample!



I can see lots of possibilities for this technique in garment sewing.


Challenges Everywhere


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The Refashioners Community Challenge finished on the last day of September, last Friday, with an extraordinary response. Not having been involved before I had no idea how many people would take part, I think perhaps nobody else did either because it seems to have been much bigger than last year.

There was an extraordinary variety of entries, some on slightly similar themes, but on the whole all different. It’s going to be very difficult for Portia Lawrie, who runs the challenge, to pick the winners, but I’m sure everybody who took part has gained something just by being creative and having a go. I know that I have also gained a lot of ideas for future projects, not by copying what others have done but by using their work as a spark to ignite more ideas. It’s always possible to look at a project and think ‘now what if you changed that bit, or used this part to add to something else?’

I’ve been working on my entries for the Australian Sewing Guild convention challenge as well. This year the theme is ‘put a wrinkle in it’ which opens up all sort of possibilities. I decided to enter all three categories, which was probably a mistake since I don’t think I’ve really had time to do justice to any of them. The three categories are garment, fashion accessory, and home decor accessory. For the garment I cheated a bit and used a shirt which I made for a workshop on sharks teeth that I ran at our neighbourhood group last year. It has two panels of sharks teeth tucks in the front, one vertical down one side and the other horizontal across the yoke. I’ve found now that I didn’t take any photos of it at the time, but here is one of another similar shirt I made many years ago.


Sharks teeth shirt

My fashion accessory entry is a bag, not finished yet, and the home decor accessory is a trio of pincushions, masquerading as cupcakes. I didn’t get time to photograph them before sending them off either, so they will have to wait. They were pretty complicated to make, so they probably need a blog post all on their own. Next time!


The Refashioners 2016 Community Challenge


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I was really excited when a friend sent me a link to the Refashioners 2016 Community Challenge being run by Makery. So much creativity, not to mention some fantastic prizes. Since recycling denim is my thing, I was quick to check out the details, and equally quick to decide to enter. At this point I must admit that I didn’t make this garment specifically for this challenge, it was one of my entries in the Australian Sewing Guild’s Castaway to Couture competition earlier this year.

Since I have done several denim recycling projects before I have a dedicated box full of discarded denim, both whole garments which I haven’t taken the scissors to yet, and bits left over from previous projects. For this challenge I decided to re-visit a theme I have used before, which entails many hours with a seam ripper. I find the most interesting bits of old denim are the bits which have faded, hems, seams, waistbands etc, anywhere the denim has been folded or creased. The fading creates beautiful patterns in the fabric, reminiscent of Japanese shibori dying.

The downside of all this beauty is that it only happens where the denim has been folded. Whilst the rest of the jeans are attractive, the best bits to me are generally small, so it means lots of unpicking to harvest them, and then lots of patching together to make a new garment. I think it’s worth it though, what do you think?

I seem to have been so caught up in the creative process for this challenge that I didn’t taken many photos of the work in progress. There is a pile of bits left over –

Still raw materials for a few more projects here!

Then a few details of the finished garment –

The lining, which you can just see, and which saved me from having to finish all the seams, was a sundress from the op shop.

And finally me modelling it.

Pants Fitting, and a Light Bulb Moment


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At a recent neighbourhood group meeting of the Australian Sewing Guild we worked on fitting pants, assisted by I* and K*. I think this would have to be the most difficult garment to fit, you are trying to get flat fabric to go round the body at a part where one cylinder (the trunk or torso) splits into two cylinders (the legs), all the time allowing enough room for movement but in most cases still having a reasonably fitted profile. I know that I’ve tried in the past, and whilst I’ve had some successes I think they are outnumbered by the failures, to the point where I’d pretty much given up trying. Fortunately I’m usually able to buy pants that pretty much fit, so I’ve focused my sewing on less frustrating garments.

Since there was a pant fitting workshop on offer though, I decided to take up the challenge again. I needed to make a muslin to take to the workshop, so I dug into the stash for some fabric which I hoped would make a wearable muslin. I found a large piece of denim left over from making jeans for my daughter about 12 or 14 years ago, and decided to use that. It’s a fairly heavy weight denim with a white pinstripe woven in, which meant I didn’t need to mark grain lines on the muslin but could just work with the stripes on the fabric. In the end there wasn’t quite enough, I had to use scraps of other denim for the waistband, but that was OK.

I selected a Sandra Betzina Today’s Fit pattern, (number 7608), which I had made before without success. The result of that effort is still in my possession, but I don’t think I ever wore them, they were too baggy. I don’t remember where or when I bought the pattern, I don’t think it is in the current range, it’s reviewed here on

Having done another workshop earlier in the year with K* about accurate measuring I reviewed which size to cut, and ended up with a smaller size than I had done before. I haven’t lost weight, but I must have allowed too much ‘just in case’ fabric last time, which is probably why the pants were baggy. This time I cut according to my measurements, and basted the pants together ready for the workshop.

When I tried the pants on they weren’t too bad, but still baggy round my thighs, particularly at the back. I* advised me to undo the inside leg seam, and take in the seam allowance on the back of the pants between the crotch and knee. I took in about 1.5cms, and restitched, which was a great improvement. I had already shortened the pants by about 3cms at mid-thigh level, since they would be too long otherwise. If shortening pants you need to do it in the leg rather than just cutting off the bottoms, otherwise the width that is intended to fit round your upper thigh just ends up round the lower thigh, and is another cause of bagginess.

There was still room for improvement, but I was happier with the pants than I had been before, and since I had taken my machine with me I had started to turn them into a real garment rather than a muslin. I was still pondering the slight bagginess around the crotch on my drive home, and then there came a light bulb moment. I remembered reading, I think it was in Threads, an article about pant fitting which talked about body space. Basically you need enough space in the crotch curve to fit your body (obvious, right!), but if the crotch is too low/baggy, while it seems as if you have too much fabric, in fact you don’t have enough. More fabric, in the form of a longer inside leg seam and a higher crotch curve, means that the crotch seam fits more closely to your body. It’s the same principle as an armhole, in order to have a fitted armhole which comes closer to your body, you need to raise the bottom of the armhole, which means you need more fabric.

When I got home I went straight to the sewing machine, and restitched the crotch seam with only the minimum seam allowance, about 3/8″. Tried on again, and another improvement in the fit! Unless I take the pants apart again and add on some more fabric, then re-cut the seam line, this is the best I can do, but I’m happy enough. When I make the pattern again I will raise the crotch seam more and see what happens.

I’m so enthusiastic now about these pants that I have finished them, and they will definitely be a wearable muslin. I had to face the bottoms, since I had only the very minimum of fabric to make them and no hem allowance, plus the waistband is in a different denim, but since I don’t wear my tops tucked in that won’t matter. I’m even going to drag my previous effort out of the cupboard and see if they can be resuscitated.

Again, no photos for this post. At this time of year the only time I am home in daylight is at the weekend, and the last couple of weekends have been very overcast so no sunshine for taking photos even then. I am spoilt really, so much of the year is bright and sunny and so I just assume that I can take photos outdoors, but lately it hasn’t been happening. The forecast for this weekend is better, I must make time to go out with the camera and photograph a few projects that haven’t yet been recorded.

New from Old – Jumper Wrap Workshop


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Yesterday I attended a workshop at my neighbourhood group of the Australian Sewing Guild run by Jody Pearl of Sew Outside the Lines. Jody showed us how to make jumper wraps, using old jumpers sourced from the op shop or from our own stash. I had bought several garments to use in the workshop from the Good Samaritan op shop, but in the end only used two of them. I had selected a couple of grey to use as a base, and some pink for additional interest, but I ended up using only the grey to make a monochrome wrap. A bonus is that I now have the pink ones left over for another wrap, and now I have done one I also have more idea about what to look for when shopping for the raw materials next time.

The basic premise is to cut up the donor garments, and start by making a flat piece of fabric. A diagonal cut in the first garment means that some of the fabric is on the bias, which is what gives the wrap an interesting asymmetrical look, and also a bit of flare. After that the donor garments pretty much dictate how the finished item looks, as Jody says you let the fabric tell you what to do. Every finished garment is different, since the starting points are all different, and also everybody has their own individual style which influences the decisions they make.

I didn’t get mine quite finished, so no photo yet. I had forgotten to take a cushion, and I find the chairs in the centre are a little low, so after some time sewing my back was aching and I didn’t feel like finishing. I have a bad habit of disregarding my posture until something hurts, rather than sitting properly to start with, and I need to stop doing that. I have something called a ‘quillow’, which is basically a blanket/quilt which folds up and tucks into a pocket stitched on one side of it and becomes a cushion. I really only use it when I am going out somewhere, so I should keep it in the car and avoid the same thing happening again.

When I got home I was pressing my wrap to try and get rid of a small ‘bubble’ where I had stretched the fabric during stitching, and I noticed a pale streak in one of the pieces. I hadn’t noticed it before, but as usual with these things, it is right down the front of the garment, and once I knew it was there it bugged me. I’m not sure how it got there but I need to do something about it. The pressing didn’t work, but I did manage with a great deal of care to unpick that bit of stitching so that I can re-stitch it without the bubble. Unpicking knitwear takes a great deal of care, especially since I had used a closely matching sewing thread, but I did it without making a hole in the fabric. If I had made a hole though, I could just have stitched more fabric on top, such is the adaptability of the whole concept.

My first thought was to get some fabric paint and add more pale streaks to try and disguise the first one, but that meant going shopping for paint. Then I remembered that I had an offcut of pale grey lace somewhere, and thought of stitching that over the top of the panel with the streak. I’d also add at least one other piece of lace elsewhere to make it look as if the lace was intentional rather than covering up a flaw.

Apart from that I have just to finish the armholes and the wrap is complete – watch this space for a photo!