It’s Sew Simple is a mobile sewing school teaching sewing & textiles decorative techniques to all. We exhibit at various events & craft fairs in London. I love to teach simple ways to tackle difficult sewing techniques, developing your confidence and broadening sewing skills.
I wanted to share with you all things that I use when ever I sew, things that have made my life easier, influenced and or inspired me, things that have solved problems and simply made me smile.
My mission and my passion: Have you ever found a pattern that you like, then discover you need a zip, thread, interfacing and or a trimming and had to buy from 3 different places, then wait ages for the postman to deliver? Well I want to create an online shop, a shop similar to a recipe book for sewing. All the ingredients you need for each make, all in one place, help to make your sewing projects easier and more efficient. Everything I hope to stock, I have tested and use in my own sewing room every day. This is my latest project, so watch this space.
Function and aesthetics
I like things to function well and be aesthetics pleasing, is it possible to have both? This is not always possible, sometimes aesthetics wins and sometimes function?
I have worked in the fashion industry and in schools; learning and teaching everything textiles and fashion along the way. When buying products I have had lots of different specifications in mind, specs that have a different order of preference, in education it always needed to be best priced, in industry function came first, then comfort of use, aesthetics rarely got a look in. I had a pair of scissors made to fit my hand once and even a table made to my height for a sample cutting job.
I like nautical, colourful tools, as well as tools that make my life easier. As a teenager we didn’t have a washing machine, so my brother and I used to take it in turns to carry our washing to the local launderette every week. My mother was made redundant and the first thing she bought was a washing machine, this was a life changer. Don’t worry she got another job straight away. My first dishwasher purchase, my first car, all life changers. Most of the things on my list below are my sewing life changers.
Here are my top 20 sewing life changers #sewmucheasier with…..
Wristband pincushion: I taught product design in secondary schools, I have the mindset that a successful product solves a problem. I collect pin cushions and my number 1 cushion is my wrist one, the main reason being that I always know where it is when I’m sewing. Previously I would always be looking, reaching and or frustrated with having to get some pins whilst in the middle of sewing. Now it’s the first thing I put on when about to sew. It’s not aesthetically pleasing, but definitely solves my problem.
Measuring tape on a lanyard. This carries the same reason as above. This is the second thing I reach for when starting to sew. It’s really good when I am teaching too. When you are at your machine and need to check the size and or length of something, it’s there.
Pearl end pins: pins come in all different shapes and sizes. Cost and size matter. Your better off spending more on pins and looking after them as a result. When I worked in schools we used to buy in bulk, large boxes of pins, half of which were nails. By Christmas they were all lost, mostly dropped on the floor and swept up by the cleaners. The second reason for my choice is, I want to hear a pin drop! One summer I was barefoot and stood on a pin, initially unknown to me it broke deep in my ankle, after a couple of days the pain was awful, so I had to go to A&E. They couldn’t get it by local anesthetic, so I had to go back for a general. I ended up on crutches with stitches in my foot. So pearly pins I hear when they drop and I can also see them easily. This is important as I have a small boy running around the house. It is also important that they are long and sharp.
Brother sewing machine. I trained in industry for 6 years before teaching and all businesses at the time used brother industrial machines. Brother industrial machines need to be strong as they are used for mass production. Domestic machines don’t get used as much, so are lighter plastic models. Machine choice is always linked to your own personal history. If your mother had an old singer, that’s the one you would be recommended and trust. If you are buying a new machine, make sure it has a top loading bobbin, I spent years teaching with front loading ones and the this was so difficult to teach how to load. The top loading ones are so much easier
Brother over-locker: this is a luxury to many home sewers and lots of people are scared of them. They are very difficult to re-thread and they cut fabric at the same time as stitch. I trained in bridal so have less experience of over-locker. I would like to go on a course as my tension never looks great. I need to master that. I have recently been reading and improving my understanding of them. I do love it though, the seam finish is so quick and easy, providing the thread doesn’t break.
Cutting mat: I teach lots of workshops, so I have to cut lots of materials, it’s also a must have if you pattern cut. The measurements are on the mat and you can easily match up the lines. It’s better for small jobs like cutting patchwork squares, although I do have a large a1 mat. Traditionally they seem to only come in green, so when I saw a pink one I just had to have it.
Rotary cutter: this took me a while to get used to, I’m showing my age with this tool, as when I first starting working it didn’t even exist. One of my first fashion jobs was as a sample cutter. I’ll fitted scissors caused bunions on my thumb when I first started. I was cutting out for 9 hours a day, so scissors today come naturally to me. Rotary cutters are very good for cutting jersey and especially good for cutting small things like patchwork squares.
Small and large fabric scissors. I have several pairs of scissors, as I mentioned above it’s important to get the correct size to match the size of your hand. Your 4 fingers should sit comfortably and not be squashed in. I have a small pair of scissors next to my machine for snipping loose threads and a large pair for cutting out. When teaching GCSE Textiles technology the students would loose a mark if they left a lose thread, so I am now very OCD about cutting off my thread end after every seam sewn. I have a scissor sharpener, this is also essential.
Storage: You may be asking why have I included storage, well this is so important, if you like to be organised. I teach textiles and sewing workshops, so I have a lot to store and never enough space. I find storing in separate clear boxes best, especially with fabrics. I like to see my materials, otherwise you forget about it. If the box is clear you can see at a glance and sometimes be inspired to make something you hadn’t initially planned to. It’s a bit like filing, we all have our own systems that work for us. Fabrics: I store colours, patterns and different types separately. I have a storage box for everything, my local bric-a-brac shop says hello to me as I walk past as a result.
Guterman threads: no other thread will do. The cheaper threads can be fluffy and clog up a needle. It’s worth spending a little bit extra.
Loop Turner: I don’t use this everyday, but still couldn’t be without one. Previously a safety-pin was the only alternative and not easy to do. This tool is quick and easy to use once you have mastered hooking the hook to the fabric that is. It does helps if someone demonstrates how and I make it part of my couture workshop, when I teach at the knitting and stitching show. We make our own button loops and button loop grid.
Sleeve ironing board: This is an ironing board for pressing sleeves. This makes ironing sleeves and trouser legs so much easier and you don’t press something you shouldn’t. I would advise getting one that is strong and doesn’t fall down easily.
Concealed zipper foot: most machines come with a zipper foot, not a concealed foot. These allow your needle to go very close to the zip teeth, making the zip literally invisible
Pattern weights: I have a lovely set of donut pattern weights by OhSewQuaint, my son mistook them for real donuts and asked me recently if he could have one. Traditionally they used to be boring iron rectangles with a handle attached. They are good if you don’t want to put pins in a fabric. I altered a pattern recently and the paper was curling all over the place, my weights helped me sort that out.
Instagram twitter and Facebook groups are great forums/communities to share your makes and ask any questions you have about sewing. My favourite is Instagram, I’m a visual learner and love seeing a makers visual diary. I enjoy using all social media platforms on a daily basis. Facebook has some great groups too, I have recently created my own, where you can share and or ask questions about something you are making and or share a simple trick that can make some elses life easier.
Dot and cross pattern paper: I always have a role in the house, it’s really good for altering patterns and or making your own. The dot and cross helps you mark straight lines.
Paper patterns My favourite paper pattern brands are: Sew over It, Sew me something, Simple sewing patterns and the papercut pattern company. All have simple contemporary designs and the instructions are clear and easier than old school patterns to follow.
Pattern & print: I have always been a huge fan of pattern and printed fabrics, Liberty and Orla Kieley being my 2 addictions. I am also drawn to a leopard print.
Fabric types: I started out working with silk fabrics, my college degree collection was all made from silk chiffon. If you can drive in London you can drive anywhere.Same applies to fabric, if you can work with silk, everything that comes after will seem easy in comparison. Medium weight woven fabrics do not stretch, so easier to manage, so if you are a beginner maybe stitch to cottons, this will help you gain confidence.
Books: I have always been a collector of; cooking, art, design, textiles, fashion and sewing books. The books I have found so inspiring at the moment are; Pattern by Orla Kiely, Stretch by Tilly and the buttons, The bag bible by Lisa Lam and Complete dressmaker by Jules Fallon, oh and have to mention Mark Plan Teach by my husband Ross McGill.
Bias binding maker: I planned to stop at 20, but just remembered the bias binding tool. This helps you make your own bias binding, you can do this by hand and or buy bias binding, but this tool makes it quicker and cheaper to make your own.
If you have a tool that you couldn’t live without, please share this with me here, Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag #sewmucheasier
Each day I spent anything from 45 minutes to 2 hours each way travelling to and from Olympia, in this time I wrote this post. It helped, so I hope you enjoy my journey.
Day 1 Thursday 28th February,
Not the most usual of Thursday’s for my family. Today is World book day, it’s snowing heavily and it’s also the first day of The Knitting & Stitching Show! Many schools are closed and book days cancelled, but snow is not stopping us Sew Sew!
I am laden with 3 bags, 2 pairs of socks, welly boots, 2 jumpers, a wool hat and scarf and lastly gloves and my feet are freezing. Luckily the tube is quiet and I have a seat. Why 3 bags? I have 10 workshops running this weekend, 3 today. so I am carrying 15 pairs of scissors, 15 pin cushions filled with pins, rulers, paper, pencils, thread, needles, worksheets, booklets, flyers, fabrics and a pair of sequin trainers, obviously!
Today, my first workshop is couture sewing skills; we will be learning how to make a rouleau loop, using a loop turner and making a grid to make them equally spaced when attaching to fabric, then how to sew a fine pin hem, gathering chiffon, a French seam and a couture dart.
My next workshop is recycled sewing room containers, we will be making scissor holders and a small desk basket/bag. Here we will learn simple, yet useful sewing techniques for joining panels and accuracy when top stitching.
Next up is; transform a shirt to a bag, I have been collecting shirts from charity shops and eBay for some time now, my mother in law has also been buying them for me up in Manchester. Using my bag paper pattern and booklet of instructions, we will make a tote bag. I have quite a selection, they will look so much better as bags and I hope we can manage it in the hour. I will write-up how it all goes on my train journey home.
I have left early today, so I can have a look around before my first workshop. I don’t have a specific shopping list, but I’m sure I will be inspired. I do want to visit the brother sewing machine stand and have a overlocker chat and demonstration and hopefully get some well needed advice.
I will be looking at fabrics and perhaps a trouser pattern from SewOverIt? Her dress pattern fits so well, I think this will be a safe bet for trousers.
Once I remove the layers, today’s look is the Sew Over It cowl next top, my Sew Simple Tatty Devine necklace, dark blue Levi’s and black sequin converse.
I am on my way home from Olympia, 3 workshops done. There was lots of no shows, obviously due to the weather. Such a shame! Better for the people who did manage to get there, as more attention and less crowds. Everyone loved the couture class and I picked up a few tips myself; the best one being: leave a long thread at one end of your loop, so if the loop turner doesn’t hook on, you can pull the end back through. Love that! I will definitely use that tip next time.
I then made fabric scissor holders and all managed to make both products in the hour. The shirt workshop was my favourite. Seeing the ladies on the floor cutting out their bags from old shirts made me smile. They didn’t quite manage to finish, just handles to sew on, so all agreed they didn’t want to rush, so took them home to finish. I gave out several of my flyers for future workshops, with lots of interest.
Then back on with the layers and welly’s ready for the journey home. There were no trains at Olympia, so I shared a cab with Barley from Fabrication, she has her own sewing shop in Hackney so learning about her journey to this was really interesting. She is lovely and we had a good sewing chat. http://fabrications1.co.uk/index.php?page=highlights
Day 2 Friday 2nd March
My husbands work has been cancelled and my son’s school is closed, so I left them both in bed on their electronic devices.
I’m on the tube already, I have several layers on again and managed to dig out some wool socks, as even with 2 pairs of cotton socks yesterday, my feet were frozen. Today they are toasty and warm. It’s all about the fabric properties you know! That’s years of teaching A Level textiles theory rubbing off on me.
I have 2 workshops today; patchwork and appliqué. I have another bag full of materials. I have 2.5cm liberty squares, liberty fabric, bonder webbed fabric, linen, sewing room images and tones of toy stuffing. We will be making pin cushions and place mats today. In the patchwork lesson we will focus on accuracy, using the sewing machine guidelines to help us make our seams all the same measurement and make sure all squares join together perfectly, full instructions on how to make this pin cushion are here Pincushion worksheet
For the appliqué class, well this is more about having fun. I have printed out some images for inspiration and lots of floral fabric to cut motifs out of, then you make your own picture composition and free-motion embroidery on top, it’s great fun. You back this with another linen panel and you have a very lovely place mat toi take home.
I hope more people manage to get here today, as yesterday’s show was the quietest and most no shows I have ever experienced.
Today’s outfit is a leopard print top from next, as always jeans and Liberty trainers. Oh and my Tatty Devine necklace of course. my old boss wouldn’t allow staff to wear jeans to work, so after 10 years not being allowed, I wear jeans more than ever, as its now my choice of work wear, not his. https://www.tattydevine.com/
It was much easier getting in today, no train delays and arrived within in 45 minutes door to door. I arrived early (I am always early) so enough time to grab a coffee and set up with no unnecessary stress.
I had a lovely sewing angel helping me, she changed all the machine feet to free-motion for my second lesson and I hardly noticed it happening. The first workshop we made a pin cushion and I shared some of my simple tips and everyone managed to finish a perfectly made cushion. They matched their squares so well and they even managed to slip stitch the opening closed.
Then fun with appliqué was exactly what it says on the tin, you can see some lovely examples in the photo gallery below. When demonstrating, I enjoyed having a go myself. This is definitely something I need to make more time for and master. It’s such a skilled art. Emma Giacalone is a master, check out her work here https://emmagiacalone.com/
I am homeward bound now. I have managed to bring one bag of materials home and left 2 at the show for the next 5 workshops still to teach. I really don’t want to be laden down on the last journey home. Rather than look around I have decided to go straight home, the later you leave, the more chances of train delays. I am expecting some more patchwork squares, so fingers crossed they are at home when I return.
Day 3 Saturday 3rd March
I’ve just boarded a train at Tottenham Court Road, to Shepherd’s Bush, for day 3 of Knit and stitch. I have a bag full on shirts, as today I’m recycling shirts again and then teaching how to insert a lapped zip.
I have just been reading Sew now and Sew magazines. Sew now has lots and I’m going to write to the editor to see if I can advertise and or enter my sewing story.
Just arrived at Shepherd’s Bush and train is delayed for another 15 minutes, thank goodness for my woolly hat.
Arrived with enough time to grab a coffee and then set up. I had the help of a sewing angel. First workshop was my shirt to bag one and today it was fully booked, so 16 lovely ladies cutting up shirts. There was a great buzz and everyone had so much fun transforming their shirts.
Then straight after was my zip master class. This workshop is a lot more technical and I was so pleased to hear everyone enjoyed my simple life changing tips. Making zips less scary and easier to do. Everyone made a little bag. my sewing angel was a dream today, so helpful and nice to share my day with.
I have really enjoyed sharing my passion today with some lovely like-minded people. Now for the journey home, first I need to organise all my materials and try to take home as much as I can. Then I start the layering up again and begin my cold long journey home. Just 2 more workshops tomorrow and I’m done. I have 2 hours between sessions tomorrow, so I’m looking forward to having a good look around. The only thing I really need is some fabric clips. My Liberty squares still haven’t arrived, so if they don’t this may be what I am doing in my break tomorrow.:(
Day 4 Sunday 4th March
It’s the last day of the show and I’m already on the train, the show has been so much fun, the journeys I will be glad to see the back of however, but the show I have thoroughly enjoyed. I am now in that reflective stage, evaluating the weekend and thinking about how I would do it differently. When I got home last night I sat with some sewing books, deciding on some new content for the next one. The ideas I thought of where; tailoring, mastering different suit pockets, bag fastenings and pockets and inserting different types of boning to a corset seam. Maybe a corset toile? Just ideas at this stage. I will type them up next week and send them in to Wendy Gardiner to see what she thinks.
I have one workshop at 10.30 today, then 2 hours break before another two. I hoped to have a look round, but my 2.5cm squares didn’t arrive yesterday, so I will need to use this time to cut enough squares for a full class of 16. They need 9 squares each. Argh! I hope to rope in a sewing angel to help me. I have a cutting mat, my Liberty scraps, a ruler and rotary cutter ready. I ordered squares ages ago and they never arrived, I complained to the supplier and still no sign. I ordered again from someone else over a week ago and then the snow hit and I suspect has delayed the post. Hence no squares.
reviewing my classes, I feel like I need I to improve my appliqué class, make it a cushion perhaps? I need to spend some time making some samples. I felt like this was my weakest class, it was fun, I just think it needs more structure and have a better product to take home. I may make different larger sewing shapes ready and they can decide on the composition?
My son has been home with his Dad for the last 4 days now, I have actually enjoyed being the one going off to work every day, but I am looking forward to getting back in my workshop/dining room and getting my home back in order. the washing and ironing have been growing while I work. Every day I return from the show I have emptied my bag on my sewing table and walked away, as you can imagine it’s a mess now and I just need some time to put things away. I have so many projects on hold before the show, so can’t wait to get back to work. The first thing I will do is edit and upload this blog post. The simple sew paper pattern company agreed for me to stock their patterns and use them in my workshops, so I can now have the flyer printed and make the workshops live on eventbrite. The first pattern I want to use is the skirt and blouse one. I need to select which other patterns I want to stock, then order them next week. I want to make my Sew Over It trousers too. I have my textiles club tomorrow afternoon, so need to prep for this. They will be painting tomorrow, so lots of materials to organise. I also need to make my sons Michael Jackson costume, this could take some time as I want to use the sequins fabric.
I did have the drama of having to cut 140 squares before 1.30pm, luckily a sewing angel cut several whilst I ran my first workshop. When I went to continue I realised they were all different sizes, so spent the next hour fixing them, luckily I managed to get them all done in time. I also left pre cut lining fabric for my containers at home, so cut some more from what I had and thankfully enough. The year of teaching has prepared me well for coping under pressure and improvising on the spot, so no drama really. Everyone finished their containers and pin cushions and all seemed really pleased. I had a few young girls who did really well too, I was quite impressed with their independence and perseverance.
Wendy Gardiner (the amazing lady who organises all these events, came and told me that a helper from yesterday was singing my praises, saying how professional I was, how lovely to hear such positive feedback. Wendy wants me to do the Dublin event in November. 4 days away from my boys? I’m not sure. She promised she would give me enough workshops for all day everyday to make it worth my while. I’ll think about it? Not sure how I would manage to get all my tools and materials there? Mmmm!
All done, PHEW! 10 workshops taught, tick!
I have just had to pack up 16 sewing machines, worst part of my day, now for the journey home. We all chipped in, which made the job a lot easier. It’s much warmer today, so not so many layers.
I hope you recognise that the show is for all different ages and skills and I hope you will come and join one of the hundreds of workshops running at the next show at Alexandra Palace in October. Students; its worth visiting to see the amazing textiles work, knitter’ for wool, sewist’ for fabric and paper patterns and if you are new to sewing, come along and try a beginners workshop. https://www.theknittingandstitchingshow.com/london/
All in all a great 4 days of sewing, meeting lots of like-minded lovely creatives.
What do I need to do before this can actually happen. i was once a teacher and a head of a large deign and technology department, as part of this role I created schemes of work, following a curriculum, order and manage materials accordingly. I love creating projects and still do, just in teaching there is never enough time, we usually spent the later part of the year doing this, once all the exam classes had left. I really want to teach bag making, but as with anything you teach you need to be a master, so this is what I set about to achieve. not sure i am there yet, but enjoy it so much and as long as I keep it simple, I should do ok.
I love-making simple bags and have produced a bag kit in the past, this is available on Etsy
My bag making history, has always been basic, I wanted to change this, so I set about the challenge of teaching myself everything included in Bag making. I started by following a tutorial I found on Pinterest and made a small bag from an old quilt I had. This was relatively easy, although I soon recognised how much goes into even a simple bag. this bag was too soft and needed interlining, so back to the drawing board. I created a board on Pinterest, this is always my research starting point. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/ItsSewSimple/
Sometimes fabric can also inspire a make, I have a Orla Kiely obsession and have just decorated my bedroom using her fabric for curtains and bed linen, I have some Orla Kiely furnishing fabric that inspired me to make my next bag.
This is a fantastic book with so much helpful information.
I made a bigger bag, so I made my own paper pattern, based on the smaller one I started with. It also amazed me how much goes into a bag, components that you don’t even see; interlining, fastenings, straps, pockets and handles is just some of the many parts. I really want my bags to look shop bought, so many home-made, look homemade. The interlining and type of fastening can make such a difference, a bag needs to stand up on its own. You can see a lot of the different options available in the bag bible book.
I ordered metal magnetic press studs and started teaching myself how to make the flush pocket. I made several toiles of this, practice is always the best way to learn. I made another pocket big enough to fit my mobile phone in.
I taught zips the following week in my beginners class and included the flush pocket zip along side the invisible and lapped zips insertion. the students found it challenging (as I did first time round).
This bag was definitely a work in progress project, due to all the components needed and sourced. Not everything is available at your local haberdashery, so online specialists were used and I waited for my daily post to arrive. Each stage was slightly delayed as a result.
This also taught me that when I teach the bag making, I am going to need to cost in every little component and factor in delivery time scales.
Materials needed for this bag:
I also recognise that there are so many stages to making a bag, so want to make it a 2 week course.
I have since made another style, so there are options for people attending my workshop to make, one has a zip opening and the other press stud. See pictures below
Stages of making my bag:
Sourcing materials and components
Cutting out sections; pockets, lining, outer panels, straps
Interlining outer fabric
Making lining with pockets
Attaching pockets to outside panel
Attaching fastening to lining
Attaching lining to bag
It is a great product to build confidence with sewing, so great for beginners and also great to make something more personal to you and affordable. Bags are so expensive, so making it yourself cuts out the mark up costs.
I hope you can see that a lot goes on before my workshops start. The workshop itself is the easy fun bit. I get to share my passion with like minded people, who could ask for a better job. Come along and see for yourself!
How can my sewing skills help my child’s education?
My son is in his 3rd year at Primary school and I have found myself making or buying costumes nearly once sometimes twice a term. School day-to-day is routine and activities are structured and offer a sense of stability and make a child feel safe.
All the special non uniform days, plays and charity events are all well and good, but unknown to many; behind closed doors and in many minds, can cause a lot of extra work, stress and anxiety. Here are the extra activities my son Freddie has had since September:
Christmas Nativity play
Super hero day
World book day
Children in Need day
Freddie has been a sheep at the Christmas nativity, a Scottish King at International day, Iron man and most recently I have been making a Crayon costume for the up and coming World book day, his favourite book being: The day the crayons quit!
He also wants to be Michael Jackson at the next school disco. he has drawn a design and has his eye on some black sequins fabric in my workshop.
Several of my mum friends can’t sew, or they work full-time and haven’t got the time to even keep up with the daily primary school parental expectations. I have been teaching in secondary schools for 16 years and when Freddie started Primary I soon recognised that I had no idea the extent of parental involvement. It is so important to be involved in your child’s education. This is not always easy for the best parents out there, we just have to try to do our best. Each costume can cost anything up to £30 to buy in shops or online. I know one mum that was recently informed by her daughter that she needed a costume, the night before I hasten to add and as a result she stayed up past midnight transforming a sheet into; Helen from Troy.
Supporting our child’s education and needs
Our children go through so much without us, dealing with challenges in the classroom, to growing friendships, so much can be a worry for our little minds, so most parents try to do their best to help their children. There are so many ways a parent can support their child through school; reading with your child is vital and I am proud to say I have read to my son every day since he was born and he reads to me every day now. my husband and I have always loved reading and my husband has written 3 educational books, so as you can see, this is something that we see as very important to instill in our children. Research shows that it’s the single most important thing you can do to help your child’s education.
As with reading, try to make maths as much fun as possible – games, puzzles and jigsaw are a great way to start. It’s also important to show how we use maths skills in our everyday lives and to involve your child in this. This we find more challenging and had to train myself to include in everyday life; from counting buses, to giving limits to costs of toys when taking the trip to our local toy shop, to counting how many potatoes we need for a family Sunday lunch.
Then there is homework, homework reinforces what your child is learning in school. It also gives you a chance to become involved in the learning process. This is frowned upon by many parents and can be a challenge for full-time working parents, finding the quality time and not battling with their child unnecessarily. Freddie does work well with routine and we enjoy sitting together and working on a task each week. We are lucky in the respect that his school give him choices and challenges that he can choose, that best fit his ability. I am in two minds with homework, it really depends on your mindset and how you manage it. I try to make it as enjoyable and sometimes make it relate to Freddie’ likes when I sense reluctance, it’s all about encouraging a child, I never force him to do things.
So we have English, Maths and home learning. What about all the social skills that are essential for relationships, mindset and positive experiences to develop? My son is a worrier at times, little things are important to him and he does worry what people will think. He is more confident than shy, he is also more confident when things are stable, if there is change that’s when the anxiety sets in. So when we have these non uniform days, rehearsals for plays, activity days, sports days, fairs and parties, he can start to worry and feel insecure and over thinks things. I think this is normal for a lot of us, my husband and I were both nervous and shy as young children. You wouldn’t think it now, as we both teach and do public speaking.
We just need to be aware of our child’s individual needs and we need to do the best that we possibly can, within our money and time lifestyle restraints right?
Living in London is hard for many reasons, the first challenge being financial, it is such an expensive city to live in; property and or rent is so expensive, the cost of travel and as we all do around the world, we work very long hours to put basic food on the table. What I hope parents can recognise is you don’t have to spend so much on every costume you buy for your child, sometimes less holds more value. when Freddie comes home with the next terms newsletter, informing us of all the terms up and coming events, the first things is dates go on the calendar, then we set about making decisions on what is needed. We do this together, looking at existing costumes, then fabrics and accessories. Freddie really enjoys the experience of helping to bring an idea to life.
I would like to share some cheaper quick options, some making and some not.
The pillow case and or sheet costume. A pillow case can be transformed without a sewing machine, all you need is a sharpie pen and your kitchen scissors. I have recently been working on a Crayon costume, this would cost £24 online ready-made. An easier option right enough, but when you need up to 5 costumes a year, this can become very expensive. You can pick up a pack of 2 pillow cases from several supermarkets and online, for £4.50 and even less if you shop around, and I also found some self adhesive black felt online. I cut holes for the arms and head and cut the words out of the felt and stuck these on. I sewed the armhole openings and neck, this is just me being a dressmaker, please don’t think you have to. You can also use a black Sharpie pen which would make it even easier to draw the words on. You could draw the writing with your child, making it a team effort, I’m sure depending on their age they would enjoy this and it ticks a literacy box for sure. I’m using the second pillow case to make some trousers(using an old pair of Pyjamas cut up for the paper pattern). If you have some pj’s the correct colour then no need to even make. They could even wear track suit bottoms. Freddie has a long-sleeved blue top that he can wear underneath. I still need to make a crayon hat, this I will make from cardboard boxes and he can paint it. Pinterest is a fantastic place to get ideas, I have a costume page: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/ItsSewSimple/world-book-day-costume-ideas/2
Accessorising and customising existing clothes. Freddie wanted to be a Scottish King. He’s not confident enough to wear a kilt yet, so we put a few ideas together. When I say together I always involve Freddie in choosing options. We do research together; looking at fabrics, clothes etc online. I found a cheap t-shirt with the Scottish shield on it, I attached a cheap flag to the back of his t-shirt. I went to Tiger and bought him some plastic gold crown glasses and made him some tartan trousers, again based on pj’s. These are easy elasticated at the waist trousers. We also found some tartan socks to finish off the look.
I hope this shows that you don’t have to spend £30+ every time.
There’s also nothing wrong with; sticking dot stickers on a white t-shirt for Children in Need day, or using a cardboard box or paper plate for a mask, an old sheet can be made into a number of different things as its so big. There is also nothing wrong with buying a costume last-minute online either.
How has teaching changed during your time as a teacher?
I started teaching 16 years ago, completing a PGCE at Middlesex University in August 2000. I spent lots of my college time in the library, reading books about the various teaching requirements required to be good. In that year, I also purchased my first computer at home as I needed to type up my dissertation. How times have changed, or have they?
I remember trying to focus on one thing at a time and soon learnt that life as a teacher would train me to do be able to do multiple things at once. I started teaching when classrooms still had chalkboard and had very few computers. I remember ‘the realisation that I was really a teacher’, when I was writing my lesson outline on a roller chalkboard! We did not use computers, we wrote the day’s lessons on the board and rolled the board around to protect the content, ready for the next day. Then wipe boards were introduced, followed by the Interactive Whiteboards and today, we now have huge television screens.
In the past 16 years, I have only experienced one OfSTED inspection and this was in my first term of teaching. Lucky me! Back then, OfSTED used to give advanced warning of their visits and spend several days in the school. Today, you hear the day before and they only stay for 1 or 2 days depending on the nature of your school. In ‘my OfSTED in 2002’, I spent hours planning the week’s lessons – the senior leadership team spent 3 weeks stressing everyone out with to-do’s! I remember feeling like, bring it on. I wanted to show off as I was still used to having another member of staff in the classroom and actually enjoyed showing what I was doing.
The first lesson they came to I remember like it was yesterday. It was a graphics lesson, a scheme of work that my head of department had created. She was outstanding at creating resources and my students enjoyed showing them off too. They did me proud. The inspector gave me feedback straight away, told me that he “did not need look at my planning; if you planned on the back of a match box, I’d be satisfied.” The next lesson did not go as well as the inspector asked one student “what fabric [she] were using?” and she went blank. They told me to work on and the feedback helped me to recognise what I needed to do to improve my teaching. So, fairly easy for my first – and now last inspection.
Leadership and Management
I left my first school after 6 years and took a job as a head of design and technology somewhere else. My predecessor school had another inspection the year after I left and my new school had just had an inspection the year before – another stroke of luck! Three years later, I was on maternity leave for the next OfSTED visit. I went into my department with bags of treats for my team to help them through the stress.
Today, the ‘O word’ is never mentioned until it is really happening. It causes so much unnecessary stress. I have known amazing teachers to be signed off sick for weeks, leave teaching altogether, suffering from exhaustion or depression straight after an inspection. I have seen outstanding teachers receive unsatisfactory feedback. I remember a friend of mine stayed up all night the night before, and then was so exhausted on the day, subsequently did really badly on the day.
I have had to change a few times in my career. When I started out as a middle leader at a new school, I had to be a manager and leader of eight staff, responsible for behaviour and curriculum within the department. It was a huge learning curve. It was an opportunity to start again. I soon learnt that you have to be yourself. I used the ‘fake it till you make it’ strategy and it worked for the best part of the following years. I realised that you need to be one key thing as a manager: a people person, placing relationships are the heart of every thing you do. You have to lead by example. Be supportive, consistent, organised and reliable. You also have to work 12-hour days, every day!
I suspect these aspects of teaching are exactly what school leaders faced 5, 10 and 15 years ago when I first started.
I am constantly thinking of new ideas for future sewing workshops. I teach all levels of abilities, from beginners to advanced seamstresses. The Kimono can be made by any ability, depending on the way you go about it and with which paper pattern, if any you use. In my advanced workshops we make a Kimono without a paper pattern, in my beginners class we make a very simple style that includes some challenges, enabling skills development and progress. Here is an over view of my latest workshops: http://www.eventbrite.com/experience/39613833041
I love-making and wearing Kimonos, as they are so versatile, they can be worn to dress up jeans, or with a sparkly evening dress. I am going to the Blog awards this year and will wear the blue Papercut one in the pictures below, with a posh frock.
So I am on a mission to find the best Kimono pattern, so I can use it to teach with, in workshops at the end of January.
They are so quick and easy to make too. Or are they?
I have made 4 different versions over the last few months, so wanted to share my experiences with you.
The New Look 6438
Simplicity K1108 (3 shapes included)
Papercut Kochi Kimono
Pinterest no pattern online tutorial
This is a short bat wing sleeve style. Initially I didn’t add the fusing to the neck-band and soon discovered this was an error. It definitely needs the structure, as without it stretches and gets misshapen and doesn’t matchup. so I amended my error. I used a; blue silk, Liberty print, this worked really well as it has fantastic drape. I also French seamed it, this only worked as the underarms were curved, if there was a corner under the arm like in other patterns, this would bunch up under the arm. I would like to make a chiffon version, maybe with a contrasting beaded neckband? or it could be made in a heavier material for a warmer jacket effect. this was really quick and easy to make and looks lovely. I get lots of compliments when I wear it. The first time I wore it with jeans to my husbands 3rd book launch. i had to make a speech at this event, so wanted to feel comfortable and confident and the kimono helped.
No pattern Kimono
I have a future workshop where I am teaching how to make a Kimono without a pattern, this technique I saw on Pinterest and gave it a go myself. It is literally made up of 4 pieces, two L shaped fronts and one T shaped back. With an optional front band. This is the simplest and best way to start pattern cutting for yourself. It is so easy and you can make the perfect length and shape for you. I used a heavy weight cotton sashiko fabric that was originally a throw. it looks great as a jacket style kimono. Here is a link to my Kimono board on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/ItsSewSimple/kimono/
Paper cut Kochi Kimono
The Papercut patterns are a totally different experience, a quality experience I was having for the first time. The packaging is so lovely, from the cut out logo, the card cover, the instructions graphics, to the thickness of the paper inside. All make you feel like you are working with a quality product, it just feels expensive. Patterns have traditionally been made with a light-weight tissue, mainly because it is cheaper to produce and easier to store and pin to the fabric. This isn’t everyone’s specification these days, well I enjoyed using the thicker paper and like how it doesn’t rip so easily and it folds away so well. I am forever crunching up my tissue patterns and they never store well once used. I remember someone saying they iron theirs before they put them back, which is a good tip, just not what I want to spend my time doing, I avoid ironing like the plague. The pattern just feels special, when something feels new and expensive you tend to treat it differently. Which is definitely the case for me. The instructions make you feel like someone is having a conversation with you, they are easy to understand and well illustrated. You pay for the quality paper, inside and out.
You can make the Papercut kimono with pockets, a belt and or lining. The lining I may try in a thicker fabric in future. I went for the plain, no belt no pockets style, as I was using a large print, so it has enough going on. I do still find the under arm tricky to match up and it’s worth pinning and then basting before sewing, just to check. i would also recommend you baste the band before top stitching, the shape has so few parts to sew together it’s worth spending that extra time, to make it make perfectly.
The Paper cut pattern is luxurious, quite expensively priced, but you soon understand why, I am a big fan and will be ordering some other styles very soon.
New Look 6438
I really enjoyed making this and it looks great on. It isn’t as comfortable to wear though, it’s too short and needs a brooch to keep the centre front in place. If I make it again I would add a press stud inside and make it longer. I often remind myself when this happens that it is good to make a toile first, then you can feel how it fits and then make alterations before using the expensive fabric. we have not always the time, so live and learn.
I went on to make the short square version. I had some black Liberty fabric that I wanted to use and thought this would work well. I didn’t like it anywhere near as much. I wore it as a light jacket to one of wy workshops at the great British Sewing bee last year. I made a matching infinity scarf. It just looks old-fashioned shape wise, frumpy is the best description. I will not make this shape again. I did also find the under arm quite tricky. The meeting of the seams is difficult to do first time, I did have to unpick it as the seams were pulling and it didn’t look right when finished.
The over all winner has to be Papercuts kimono, as its easy to make, a quality pattern and an all round user-friendly, special experience. The Simplicity bat-winged kimono comes in at a close second place, as it is so easy and a versatile wear. I didn’t need to alter the shape in any way. I really like the New look style, but need to alter the sizing next time I make it. Kimonos are definitely my favourite to wear and make.
I have done a few markets now, the first being a primary school Christmas fair. The only way I can describe my first experience is cold and long! You always have to be there really early, so as to unload your bursting at the seams small car, then transform a table into a pop up shop. This was all done outside on a very cold December Saturday. Then stand there for 6-9 hours. This sounds easy right, anything done for long periods of time is challenging overtime.
Parents and children came in their droves, but all had a quick glance and then rushed straight for the arts and crafts activities. Most people just bring loose change, they were not there to shop, their children were there to see their friends and play, parents to see fellow mum and dads. having a less rushed chat. I did sell a few items and to my surprise the most expensive ones; Liberty patchwork cushions and scarfs mainly. I did get lots of compliments, people liked my products, just not the right forum for them I concluded. By the end of a very long day I was exhausted and cold, this is when the clear up begins and the car is filled again.
After this first experience I vowed never again.
I must learn to listen to myself more.
Hand made Fair
Obviously time heals, as my next experience was a full weekend exhibiting at the; Hand made fair. Surely a bigger better fair would improve my chances of selling? Well I had my own sign, slightly smaller space for an extortionate price, this did shock me as the exhibition is targeted at small businesses. I purchased lots of display materials; coat stand, children’s tailors dummy, tiered shelving and I did several weekends of sewing in preparation. 3 days selling and I didn’t as much as cover my costs. What did I learn? Well everyone was selling fabric, products either really expensive or under £5, but mostly kits. I gave out loads of my business cards and met lots of people interested in my product. So I got my business name out there and gained several new followers on social media. Not a complete waste of time.
I decided to go away and create my own kits, including all materials needed, paper patterns and instructions included. I went back the following year and tried again. Again just about covering my costs. At this stage I had started to work part-time, to spend more time; teaching at more craft fairs developing my ideas, and my website.
So this year, I decided not to do the Handmade fair again, I did feel sad about this, as it’s such an amazing show. Instead I decided to focus on my teaching. This year I have taught at the country living fair, the knitting and stitching show, the women’s institute and the GBSBee.
Crouch End Christmas Market
I have no teaching in December so decided to try the Crouch End Christmas market. I vowed this time I would not spend any money, just sell my stock, make with what materials I had, nothing more.
I applied for an outdoor stall and this was passed on to the indoor market as outdoor spaces were full. Initially I thought this would be better, warmer if anything. How wrong was I.
The Hall gave a lovely atmosphere although several large holes in the ceiling above. Carol singers opened the fair and crowds came. As the day went on it was evident that we were missing the passing trade being inside. Lots of people passing the outdoor market didn’t venture as far as us, or even knew we were there. Being inside was colder than out, as we had no sun. It was freezing. If anyone is thinking of doing a market stall, make sure you take a hot water bottle, wear wool socks and lots of layers. My stall was next to a lovely lady called Samantha from The Vintage Letter Lady! She and I talked all day she sold lots of her brilliant Scrabble picture gifts, thevintageletterlady.com/. The perfect Christmas gift. I on the other hand sold a couple of my London bags, some small Christmas tree kits and stockings. Again just about covering my costs. I did however give out loads of my sewing workshop flyers. People showed a real interest in these.
So what have I learnt? I know I wasn’t alone in the lack of sales, everyone was struggling. People who visit fairs tend not to spend, maybe £5 here or there, or if something really captures their attention they will spend more.
Basically it was an obvious lesson for me and something that I was realising anyway….Stick to my teaching!
When I make products it’s always with my teaching/workshops in mind. I make for myself; to broaden my own sewing skills and to increase my wardrobe cheaply. I also make simple things that can help improve people’s sewing skills and give people confidence whilst doing so. I love working with Liberty fabrics and I like making fabric containers, cushions and bags. My new workshops start at the end of January at the arts depot. book here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/advanced-sewing-workshop-tickets-39629115752?aff=erelexpmlt
It’s always good to get your product out there, but not if it’s cold. Don’t get me wrong all the shows I have done have been lovely, organised well and I have met some lovely people. I do sell my products on http://etsy.com/shop/ItsSewSimpleShop and on my website, here they are very popular. It’s just not for me?
Teaching adults and children privately is my aim for 2018. Onwards and upwards! I will be teaching at the next knitting and stitching show, so please book a workshops here www.theknittingandstitchingshow.com/spring/
My all-time favourite fabric is Liberty cotton, anything liberty basically! it is versatile, soft, presses so well and great for beginners fabric. I also love silk, there are less liberty silks available and they tend to be very dated. The Liberty prints on the other hand are endless. I have been known to use jersey, furnishing fabric and even wool, but nine times out of ten I end up back with liberty.
Searching for fabric
I don’t have a fabric shop locally to me, so have to do a lot of my fabric shopping online. I do a lot of searching and fabric research. Every time I search I find something new. I buy from a range of different suppliers. I start my research on the Liberty website looking at the latest prints. I rarely buy here, as they are so expensive, so I then look at AliceCaroline.co.uk. She has a broad range and a beautiful website. There is also sewbox.co.uk, abakhan.co.uk and finally eBay.co.uk
I regularly watch out for liberty fabrics on eBay and it’s the best place for small patchwork squares. I usually buy from Sew Box and Fabrics Galore at Sewing and craft Fairs, as they always have a lovely range and you can pick up something quite different and vintage.
I make lots of different Liberty products ranging from; children’s clothes, pyjamas, scarfs, cushion covers, shirts, quilts, ties and necklaces. All are available on my Etsy page and here on my website. I always keep my scraps and use them for future patchwork projects and I have recently made a lovely patchwork Christmas stocking. I pride myself on being very organised, so this has reminded me that I need to buy another clear container for my ever-growing stash of Liberty scraps.
I make liberty ties for my husband, he is always asking for new ties and I like that he wears ties no one else has. He is never sure initially at my choice of fabric and has had some online critics in the past, but soon recognises that my choices are on trend and way ahead of the average man. I found some Liberty jewel fabric, which was not easy to find initially, sourced from sewbox.co.uk It looks great as a tie and as a scarf. This would work well as a husband and wife gift. When I make ties I always make two, one for my husband and one for my website. I also do this as it is cut on the bias, so uses up over a metre of material. I use the scraps for patchwork, so, there’s never any waste.
I also found a Liberty fabric with dancers print on. I have never seen it before and didn’t know what to make with it for ages. I decided on a scarf and a kimono jacket. The jacket (doesn’t look great in the picture) is great as a throw over with jeans and the scarf is a way to make a day look more evening. I French seamed it and pin hemmed the sleeves and hem of the jacket. I wanted it to have a couture feel, over-locking is for mass-produced high street products, not for homemade clothes. My years working in bridal wear has brushed off on me and I like to make my clothes feel extra special to wear. I loved making this and it looks great with jeans.
I do use other fabrics, I made myself two jersey tops recently. I love how quick and easy it is to sew jersey, especially when you just have to over lock the seams. I was trained in the bridal industry and at college my collection was all silk chiffon. I used 150 metres of fabric in total, the collection was pleated and gathered, hence why I used so much. I worked alongside a couture specialist and she taught me how to do french seams and the thinnest pin hems ever. So it’s just not in my makeup to use jersey. I would like to go on a course and master it. I made the tops in a camouflage print and a pink Liberty printed jersey. I got the camouflage fabric from GirlCharlee.co.ukand the SewBox
I really enjoyed making a red wool vintage jacket recently too. I picked the fabric up at the Knitting and stitching show and unfortunately can’t remember the supplier. It was so thick, so different to work with and the collar was really challenging, but I was really pleased with the finish and wore it out to the Teaching awards.
Teaching and learning
When I am working at craft fairs I like making sure I have time to look at the fabric stands, there are not enough fabric shops in North London, so it is worth a visit to see all the online suppliers collectively. I have 3 fabrics I picked up at the last Knitting & stitching show from fabrics galore that I haven’t used yet. I think I may use these paper patterns?
I gained my fabric knowledge whilst working in a fabric shop all through college. I was a Saturday girl and loved being surrounded by fabrics. There was also a pattern section and I would spend the quiet time browsing through the pattern books. People would ask how much they would need for different types of products, I learnt how to rip fabric, all about the different interlining fabrics and the different fabric widths available. I had just left home at the time, I wasn’t as good a sewer at the time, my sewing experience came later, but I did save money by making all my own curtains and duvet covers. Many skills learnt when working here I still use to this day. I also taught A Level DT Textiles for 16 years and here I did a lot of reading to help prepare students for their written exams. This course link very closely to the science behind fabrics.
For the last 3 years I have been teaching sewing at many craft fairs, but as of next year I will be teaching at the Arts Depot from the end of January, teaching beginners and advanced sewing workshops. The beginners workshop is perfect if you have never used the sewing machine before or you’re feeling a bit rusty, this is the course for you. I will teach you all the basic skills of machine sewing to give you the confidence to start simple projects on your own. I will make a variety of products, starting with woven fabrics, fabrics that are easy to sew with and help give you added confidence. My advanced classes use a variety of silk fabrics, these are less forgiving and better to work with when you have more sewing experience. I am always sourcing fabrics for my workshops, so enjoy looking for quality fabrics suitable for many different functions. If you have any questions about fabrics please do not hesitate in asking me, I am more than happy to help.
I will also be selling lots of my liberty makes at The Crouch End Christmas Market on the 2nd December, so come along and take a look. Here is a little preview:
My new workshops start next week at The artsDepot and I still have some places left. I am starting with a 4 week beginners course, then I have created a family programme. For the beginners course book here:
The Family course will be designed for a parent and child to work as a pair on different sewing projects. You will decorate and make each week, working on different surface decoration techniques and then sewing the fabric into different products.
I am creating a flyer and will share this with you next week. This will be available at The ArtsDepot and links to the details will be on their website. Watch this space!
This week I have been preparing help sheets, these will be used in my workshops next week and you can also down load here.
Always make sure your machine needle is down before you lift the take up lever. This will make sure that you have a perfect square corner with no gaps. You will keep the position this way. Here is a video demonstration:
I have also been working with Wren Primary school twice a week, the children in years 1 and 2 have been learning about; the art of Indian pattern, henna hand designs and this week they started to decorate a pillow case with my collection of wooden Indian blocks. I got these from https://theartycraftyplace.co.uk/ they have an amazing selection.
Here are some of the children’s art work. They were so focused and loved working with paint.
This is a great way to store and protect the point of your scissors from going blunt went in a drawer at home. They have 3 compartments and can store small and large scissors and also suitable to carry a rotary cutter. Once you understand the folding, you can make them in a matter of minutes. The decoration is optional. The scissor holder would be a great Secondary KS3 textiles project. Students could; design their own font, do some pattern cutting, try out different embroidery stitches and learn about recycled materials, before they make the holder itself. it has great potential for all ages.
In my first beginners class next week, we will be learning how to use the sewing machine, making a scissor holder and patchwork pincushion, so I have been busy preparing for this. I have made some example products and created a help sheet that you can take away after the workshop. You can also download here and have a go at home. I would love to see your makes, so please take a picture and share it on Instagram with the ItsSewSimple hashtag if you do. I will also have these available at the Knitting and stitching show where I have 10 workshops happening over the 4 days.
Trial and error.
It is such a quick easy make, that I added an embroidery initial to decorate the front. In making one, I didn’t place the letter well, so made a second example. Practice makes perfect hey! I will keep the first as an example of how not to do it. Luckily it doesn’t cost much, as you can recycle an old pair of jeans and some scrap fabric you have left over from a previous make.
I will make a help sheet for my patchwork pincushion next, as the liberty squares have arrived. See images below and keep an eye out for my next blog post.