Friday, August 21, 2015

Sewing after Konmari

Konmari is a powerful thing. It's been the single most effective method for teaching me to live with less, to curate my belongings and really love what I own.

I saw this book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising on instagram. All over it in fact. It seems everyone in blogland was getting their hands on this book and changing their lives. I wasn't sure what this book could really offer me. I mean I'm creative by nature which means I'm absent minded. I put things down, get distracted, wander off and then wonder where I put that Really Important Thing. I spend ages looking for it only to find it in some nonsensical or sometimes really obvious spot.

Things don't always have homes when you are this way.

Also I'm very much a Right This Moment kind of person. If some idea strikes me I put everything down and go in the direction of the idea often leaving things scattered about the house in my wake. I know I'll come back to them later. Cleaning is always for later. Later, later, later. The idea is always more important, cleaning up the boring things that aren't giving me inspiration is not.

So it's fair to say that my house is not tidy.

With that said how did this little book with a simple message cut through all that?

With joy.

The idea is simple and powerful. Take the things you own. Put them in your hands, those hands of yours that have veins flowing right to your heart, and measure the joy or absence of joy you feel by holding these objects close.

I wasn't really a believer as I was reading the book to be honest but there was this incredibly powerful urge to try it nonetheless. No sooner had I read about purging my wardrobe than I was on the floor of my bedroom heaving my tatty collection of shoes onto the floor. I gripped those suckers in my hands and willed my heart to decide whether to keep them or not. And wouldn't you know it. My joy-o-meter was already fully functioning without me knowing. I was piling up shoes to give the old heave-ho quicker than you can say The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising. It's a pretty long title though don't you think?

To give you some perspective on this giddy beginning I am one of those people who doesn't drive. I have my Learner's permit which I've had on and off for the last 15 years with about as many hours driving experience. This means I walk EVERYWHERE and don't my shoes know it. I hold onto shoes far too long. I put them in the back recesses of my wardobe and think I can't possibly wear them out in public anymore. But then I can't possibly throw them away. They're like my lifelong pals or something. Anyway, it's weird. That was until I Konmari-ed the sh*t out of my shoe collection. Giddy I was. Giddy I tell you. Suddenly I wanted to throw EVERYTHING out.

My clothes, including my handmades, were no obstacle for this girl. I was on a rampage. I went through every bit of storage we had in our bedroom (we have a quite a lot because of built ins) and I tossed out box after box of stuff I would normally have called sentimental or lovely memories. They weren't lovely memories, let me tell you. They were things, objects I didn't need and just made me feel guilty when I opened up boxes. Oh so-and-so gave me that, I should probably put it on display somewhere. Like my house is a giant museum of outdated objects that the other person has probably completely forgotten they gifted them to me.

I stared down not one but two overflowing Ikea Expedit's crammed full of books. Books that sat gathering dust on the shelves while I happily wandered to the library every Saturday morning. I even found myself borrowing something from the library that I had on one of my bookshelves but it was just more exciting to borrow it than to fetch it, dust it off and read it from my forgotten bookshelves. We ended up piling up the books we did want to keep and cramming an entire Expedit full of all the books which wouldn't make it.

To be clear all this stuff I had accumulated that I didn't want made it's way to our garage. We'll be organising a giant garage sale in the coming weeks and I mean giant.

So where does this leave me with sewing? I know this is a sensitive topic for some because I've seen a bit of conversation about it on instagram as we sewists navigate letting go of the most beloved things we own in our houses. My sewing room was not brutal like the rest of my house. My tossing out of patterns (for the garage sale remember? Calm down) was pretty frenzied, my crafty stash of buttons and beads a little less so and then fabric was the smallest pile.

The hardest thing for me to justify letting go is fabric. I'm one of those people that actually makes muslins now. So any fabric, no matter how hideous, is useful. I can carve it up, draw all over it and perfect it to my heart's content. All in the name of learning.

So I didn't really cull the stash much. Although to be fair my entire stash fits in 4 squares of an Expedit. Which I imagine is pretty small by most sewists standards.

This exercise was great for my sewing. Let's face it most things are incredibly inspiring when it comes to sewing. Oh look I cleaned enough to see the floor - let me sew something! Oh look I discovered that really great pattern from the internet in my existing pattern stash already - let me sew it immediately! Oh look I hung all my tools back up on my pegboard - let me sew something! You get the idea.

My Konmari was quite a few weeks ago now though and I've started to feel uneasy about my sewing. There was something really wonderful about the fervour of Konmari. It really hones in on what brings you joy and what you really don't need hanging about cluttering up the place. And while I don't have an excessive stash of fabric or patterns (even less so now) this idea of joy is bugging me more now than ever.

I thought it was nice that I came out of Konmari ready to muslin my first pair of pants, my first jacket, my first attempt at sewing for hubby, my first attempt at sewing a swimming cossie. I thought it was both great and convenient that I was so ultra focussed that all the things that had fear attached to them seemed to jump to the top of the queue without question. But I didn't know why. Why can't I sew another dress anymore? Why can't I sew another shirt anymore? Why? Why? Why? 

Apart from the nasty episode with my sewing machine being in for a service for way too long, I've been avoiding my sewing room without reason for far too long. I've finished some projects off that I've started but I can't bring myself to make anything new from start to finish.

But it dawned on me the other day. The reason for my discontent.

I have too much joy.

That might sound ridiculous, so stay with me here. When I make a new dress it brings me a sh*t ton of joy. I get the joy of buying fabric, the joy of sewing it, the joy of instagramming it, the joy of blogging it and then the ongoing joy of wearing it. That's not too much joy. That's normal for us.
What's got me in a bind is how many things I make for myself. Last year I made myself a great jersey winter dress and loved that dress to death. Not actually. It's great fabric so it still looks the same today as it did the day I made it, but you get what I'm saying. This year I decided I loved that winter dress so much that I would make another and another and another and another out of jersey, ponte and scuba and then I loved them so much I made another winter dress in chambray.

So. Much. Joy.


But when is it too much joy?

Just because I can make myself a ton of dresses and bring myself joy along the way and every single time I hold them in my hands, does that justify it? Is it ok for me to have a collection of dresses that eventually won't fit into my wardrobe just because it brings me joy? Doesn't this cycle get selfish somewhere along the way? And unsustainable?

Here is the crux of simplifying things. I don't want so many handmade clothes anymore. I mean I want the ones I've made. I love them. They define me.

But maybe I don't want to churn out clothes just because I'm at a skill level where I can look at a piece of fabric and just about turn it into whatever I like.

I think it really is time to pull back on wardrobe filling. I don't want to play the RTW game with handmades.

That's why I want to sew in unchartered territory. Make some pants, a jacket, a few great shirts for my husband. Sure I'll make stuff for myself along the way. I'll allow myself to be frivolous from time to time but I don't want the burden of all that joy overflowing from my wardrobe.

Know what I mean?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sewaholic Shirt Dress - Oakridge + Hollyburn + Cambie

I'm a Sewaholic girl. You probably know that by now and don't need me to tell you. So when I decided to make myself a shirt dress it seemed perfectly normal to me not to buy a new pattern but to mash up some patterns I already knew fitted and suited me well. 

This Shirt Dress is a mashup of Sewholic's Oakridge Shirt which I made here and the Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt which I made here and here. I also added in the waistband from the Sewaholic Cambie which I made here and here. I know these patterns well. They fit me, they suit me and I wear them a lot. So it just made sense to put them together to make a dress out of them.

I cut the Oakridge down to my natural waist and pinned the Cambie waistband to it. It showed me that the top part was going to be quite blousey rather than fitted. I ended up liking the slightly looser feel of the top and cut a longer Cambie waistband so it would accommodate the little bit of ease. Once I was happy with the fit I sewed the Oakridge pieces together as per the instructions, sewed the Hollyburn pieces together as per the instructions then sewed the Oakridge and the Hollyburn to the Cambie waistband. The pieces were obviously not perfectly aligned since they weren't designed to go together but I'd cut a longer waistband so it was easy to sew it together and just use the fabric I actually needed. 

While I was cutting all my pieces out I measured from my collarbone down to my knee to make sure I was cutting a placket piece long enough. I remember adding a little extra length on again just in case. It was a simple matter of laying the placket piece on the fabric and extending the piece down to the measurement I'd taken. 

I sewed the placket up as normal, sewed on the collar/bow piece and it all came together really smoothly.

I made it from a plum/purple coloured polka dot chambray I bought from a while ago. I've always loved the look of other people's chambray clothes and decided I needed to try it myself. It's lovely to sew with and just as lovely to wear. I think there'll be a lot more of it in my wardrobe before too long.

Everything went well on this make except of course for my sewing machine. Which was having serious issues with holding tension at the time. I once spent 2 hours trying to fix the tension and nothing I did could fix it. I took it in for a service which, instead of taking 7-10 days like they quoted, took 4 WEEKS. Once I got the machine back it was sewing much more nicely but they hadn't bothered to fix the tension properly which I had to fix myself. Luckily the machine was behaving enough for me to be able to do that. Ugh never going there again.

All that I was left with was sewing 12 buttonholes to get this girl finished. Thankfully my machine didn't eat the dress after all that and I managed to hand sew 11 buttons onto the dress. The 12th button  which was intended as the last button at the bottom of the placket went MIA so if anyone finds it let me know, k?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sewaholic Oakridge in Cloud 9 Fabric

I'm back again with another piece that I sewed a while ago and has had a bit of wear at work. It's the Sewaholic Oakridge without the bow and cuffs. This pattern is kind of perfect for me. I love a simple rounded neckline on tops and I love having the option of adding in the bow. The shape of it is really slim so it's flattering for a pear shape. I ordinarily avoid button up shirts like the plague because they tend to make my torso a bit rectangular and draw attention to the size of my hips which is obviously my widest point. Tasia gets that making a shirt pattern work for a pear shape means keeping everything very slimline and really nipping the silhouette in at the bust and waist to make sure it balances out against your hips.

Based on my measurements I made an 8 bust grading to a 10 waist and hips. I was a bit worried about the sizing to be honest. Every single Sewaholic top I've made I've had to size down to an 8 after finding that their version of a 10 swims a bit on me. However this is a super slim fit and I only just fit into the bust of this shirt. I always wondered if my measurements would catch up with me one day. Most of my bust measurement is my ribcage not my bust - like more than normal, if that makes sense.

This is the first time I've encountered pulling in the bust region - I guess I should enjoy this moment a little? I've still got 2 more versions of this shirt in the works (more on that later) that are cut against the same measurements so if I happen to make a 4th version I think I'll make it a straight size 10.

This photo below probably gives you the best idea of the fit and sizing. The shirt looks fine with my arms down but as soon as I use my arms for anything it pulls. To be honest I can feel this a little when I wear it but I hadn't realised just how bad it was until I took these photos. It's handy having a blog sometimes!

The sleeves on this pattern are also super slim. I love them but I'm torn between keeping them this size or sizing up a smidge just for a bit more elbow room. Also seeing as this was my first time sewing up a button up long sleeved shirt I kind of forgot to measure the length of the sleeves before going to attach the cuff. This is obviously quite a mistake when you're 5"2. Once I realised my mistake I also realised the sleeves were the perfect length sans cuff which is 6 centimetres shy of what they should be. Since the placket on the sleeve was also 6 centimetres and I'd already sewn it on I kind of just had to hem them and sew on a snap. It's not the prettiest solution but it works.

I'm always a little bit terrified of sewing the buttonholes on last but these turned out perfectly. Turns out I didn't need all that procrastination.

It has a little bit of pooling in the lower back but nothing I can't deal with. I think I'll predominantly making this pattern in silks and crepe de chines and tucking them into skirts so I'm not too fussed.

I made this first version in cotton because I could easily fix any fit issues by sneaking any extra fabric from the seam allowances but I didn't really need to. Every other version I have planned is silk or crepe de chine so I wanted to steer clear of french seams on a shirt I hadn't muslined.

The very next version I cut out straight after making this one is a peach cotton silk with a subtle polkadot running through it. It's been maturing in my stash waiting for the perfect pattern and I'm so glad it is turning into an Oakridge. I looks quite pink in the below photo when I was deliberating over which buttons to use. Such is my fear of sewing buttonholes that I started on one cuff and my sewing machine crapped itself half way through the button hole. So it's sitting on a hanger about 99% done until I get up the courage to try out some buttonholes again.

I've also got quite an epic Oakridge in the pipeline at the moment too. It's the ultimate Sewaholic mashup with an Oakridge down to the waist, a Hollyburn skirt and a Cambie waistband to keep it all hanging nicely. It's in this lovely purple polka dot chambray. It too is about 99% finished and only requires buttonholes. I'm sensing a theme here.

All in all this is a great pattern and I think I'll be making more. I think sizing up the bust and the sleeves will make for a perfect fitting shirt.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Two Linen Hollyburn Skirts

I love the shape of the Hollyburn skirt. I made this one a while ago but I neglected to cut the two front pieces on the right grain line. I cut them on the fold and ended up with a skirt that had a lot of swish at the side seams but no swish in the centre front. I'd been meaning to sew another one up for ages but it wasn't until I spied this mint green linen at My Hung that it all fell into place.

This pattern is a pretty easy sew except for the waistline for me. I realise this is now a problem area for me after making 3 different types of skirts with straight waistbands. My pear-shaped-ness is most pronounced right at my waist and literally within 2-3cm below my waist my measurements climb rapidly so there's no hope for a straight waistband to ever sit flat on me. To fix the problem on this one I ended up pinning the zipper into place at the back and sewing it in with a 3cm seam allowance at the top, grading to nothing by the end of the zipper. It's a clunky fix and I'd much rather learn to draft a curved waistband so I can do this forevermore but for this skirt (and the one following) it's good enough.

The linen was great to work with and I now understand the crinkle-fest that comes with wearing linen. I adore the mint green shade of this fabric but it's unfortunately a bit sheer so it doesn't get worn as much as my other Hollyburn because of that. I'm wearing it here with a Burdastyle Lydia made in a knit from Spotlight. 

This version of the Hollyburn is made exactly the same as the mint green one. Only this one is a cotton linen blend. I have to say that while I loved working with the linen I enjoyed sewing and wearing this one more. The cotton content means that it doesn't wrinkle like crazy and it has a bit more body to it. You might not be able to tell from these photos but the linen really drapes whereas the cotton linen is just a bit sharper and crisper and has body to hold the silhouette better.

I think if I sew with linen again I'll always try to pick a cotton linen blend.

I love that this skirt is versatile enough that I can wear it in all seasons. The mint linen version got worn more in autumn whereas this navy cotton linen version has been great to wear with tights during winter. I'm wearing it here with my black & white striped peplum top. I went a bit mad over peplum tops 3 years ago and wasn't sure what to do with them now that I've fallen out of love with the silhouette. Luckily they're perfect for this kind of skirt that sits right on your waist and hides the peplum away.

I'm not sure I'm done with this pattern yet because it's just such a great skirt and it fits into my wardrobe really well. Two versions should do me for this year at least though!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lekala 4345 - An instant TNT

I've found a new favourite dress pattern! I've been eyeing off the Lekala website for ages now wondering whether to take the leap with their patterns or not. If you haven't come across them yet you might want to get your credit card at the ready before clicking through. They have thousands and thousands of patterns to trawl through. Their point of difference is their sizing though. Instead of downloading a multi size pattern or even a single size pattern this site has you plug in your exact measurements. It then works some pattern making magic and emails you through your unique copy of the pattern based on those measurements. It's pdf only which I don't mind and every pattern on their site is around $3. I've had great success with their patterns fitting straight out of the "envelope" so I can highly recommend them so far.

The only thing I will warn you about is if you're pear shaped and /or have a flat belly. They make you enter a full hip measurement that needs to be higher than your hip measurement (which mine isn't because of my flat belly). Mine was basically the same but since I had to enter a higher number I made my full hip 2 cm bigger than my hip measurement. I ended up having to take this 2cm out of the dress when making it the first time. Not a huge deal as I'm pretty sure this would be a massive drawcard to anyone with a bit of a belly but something to think about when plugging in your measurements.

So let's talk about the dress! It's Lekala 4345 and as you can see from the line drawing below it has quite a lot of pattern pieces.

I was drawn to this pattern firstly because the shape of it is something I love to wear. Secondly it has princess seams across the bust which makes for a great fit for a small busted lady like myself. Although I'm sure they're good for a bigger bust too? I also loved that although it has a full skirt the fullness doesn't start at the actual waist. That middle panel across the waistline makes sure everything lies flat against your belly and only introduces all of the fullness gradually across that arc. I find this super flattering and it's the reason I found myself making 3 of these in quick succession.

The first version I made was back when the weather was a bit warmer. I used this bright and heavy cotton pique fabric which gave the skirt a bit more fullness. I initially made it with the little cap sleeves but they were an epic fail. They sewed on fine but they looked absolutely awful on and were so tight they would likely cut off blood circulation. I haven't had any problems with my shoulder width before (or maybe I haven't noticed) but my shoulders were most definitely way too wide for this pattern. Luckily the dress looks great sleeveless so I was able to sew bias binding around the arm holes and move on with my life. Also I have to mention just how great the armscye is on this pattern. The way it fits the body and the shape of it is really comfy and pleasing. I never thought I'd say that about an armscye but I bloody love this one.

I sewed a lapped zipper because that's my preference. I love how the back has the same shaped pieces as the front so it continues the fit round the middle and the same fullness in the skirt. I find this dress so fun and swishy to wear.

As soon as I started to wear this dress I imagined making a long sleeved version in ponte. As the weather cooled down I made a plan to sew up a bunch of warm winter dresses and this pattern didn't disappoint. I had to modify it a little bit to make it all work out but it wasn't very hard. Since I was going to omit the zipper I laid out my pattern pieces and figured out what needed to be cut on the fold instead. I laid the front side pieces over the Burdastyle Lydia (read Renfrew if you have that pattern?) which I use as my knit block. I redrew the front side pattern piece using the armscye from my knit block. I did the same on the back side pattern piece and then used my regular long sleeve from my knit block and everything went swimmingly around the armhole/arms. The only thing I hadn't figured out in advance was what seam allowance to sew it at seeing as I was allowing for some negative stretch. I knew since I was using ponte it would be more stable and less stretchy than a regular knit so I sewed the front top pieces and back top pieces with a 1.5 cm seam allowance rather than a 1cm seam allowance. This pretty much sorted out the fit. I did have to nip in the sides from the bust down to the hip on the side seams but this was super easy because I pinned, sewed and voila it fit. The only thing that didn't work so well was the neckline. Because I changed the seam allowance I made the neckline much wider than intended. This literally only just covers my bra straps. I couldn't turn it under to finish the edges so I left it raw. And when I say I left it raw I mean I left the hem and the sleeves raw too. Because solidarity.

I have to say that this version is my absolute favourite of the three versions I've made. I love the others too and they all get a LOT of wear especially since I discovered fleece lined tights (life changing!) but this one is the most me of the lot. The drape of this ponte is gorgeous and the whole thing feels so feminine while also being oh so very warm. Why have I not made millions of winter dresses before?? The thing that keeps me coming back to this pattern can be seen really well from this angle below. 

I made a black knit winter dress last year and love it to death. Seriously it's embarrassing the sheer amount of times I've worn that dress now. However it just hugs you around the bodice and that's about it. Whereas have a look at this beauty below. Those princess seams and that lovely arc of a seam is giving my bust, ribcage and waist great definition. It's more figure hugging and flattering than any knit dress I've made before. I really feel like it's winter knit dress mach two. It's taken flattering knit dress to another level. 

Oh listen to me go on!

So of course I couldn't stop there when I was onto such a winner. Third time around I made this floral number from some scuba fabric. Scuba. Did not think I would ever write that. What you see here is a floral wetsuit. Even though most people know I sew my own clothes this dress seems to impress them more than anything I've made. Maybe the fabric looks a lot more RTW than the stuff I usually choose?

The only change I made to this version was to add a 1.5cm sliver at the neckline of the front and back pieces to make sure the neckline wasn't so wide as the other one. Apart from that it's the exact same. I also didn't hem this one. Because solidarity.

As I've mentioned I really love this pattern and I know I'm not done with it yet. I plan to make another summer dress from it later in the year and then maybe I'll decide if 4 versions of the same pattern might just be enough to keep me happy forever.

Never say never though.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Shoemaking - An update on what I've learnt so far

Firstly HI!

It's been nearly 6 months since we've spoken on this platform. I'm all about the instaspam but I lost my enthusiasm to blog at the start of the year. Also my tripod broke at the end of last year so there was that. Good news though, I bought a new tripod and also I finally feel like blogging All Of The Things.

I had a week off recently so I geared up for making some more shoes and I have a bunch of things to tell you about what I've learnt is working and what most definitely isn't.

So far I've blogged about a lot of things to do with shoemaking. I talked about figuring out how to starthow I customised my lasts and how I made a pattern to fit my customised shoe lasts. Then I got straight into it and made a first pair of ballet flats from a kit, before sharing the verdict on my first pair of ballet flats. I then worked through some things I learnt in the book and shared my thoughts on my second pair of ballet flats.

I did attempt to make another pair in early January that never made it to the blog and look like this.

So let's start with the fun part. I discovered flipagram for instagram and took a bunch of photos throughout the shoemaking process so you'd have a better idea of what I'm doing to put everything together. Remember that this is very much a hybrid process where I've mashed up some things I like from using the kit and some things from using the book.

This first one includes cutting out all of the parts, gluing together the insole parts and sewing together the layers.


This second one shows the insole being taped to the last, the "shoe" being pulled around the last and the lining glued down before shaping the buckram over the toe with fabric stiffener.


This third one shows all the layers being glued down, my attempt to fill in the gap with felt and then the sole being stuck on.


What you'll notice from this process is that I managed, on 4 different occasions, to make something that looks like a shoe. What you can't imagine from your computer screen is that I've made something that feels like a slipper. Now, slippers are great. I love slippers. I'm wearing some right now. But they are not, nor will they ever be, something I wear outside of the house. Even if they look like shoes.

So I guess where I'm up to at the moment is trying to bridge the gap between them looking like shoes and actually feeling like shoes.

The hardest part of this (self inflicted) process is figuring out whether the fault lies with the materials, the pattern, the process or a bit of everything. Thankfully the 6 month break I had from shoe making between January and now has let a lot of things marinate around in my little noggin.

The Materials

Crinoline - is 100% useless in creating shoes. It doesn't matter how much you use or how much fabric stiffener you slather on it, it will never be sturdy and strong enough to make something feel like a shoe.

Canvas - is helpful if you're making a fabric shoe and you want a sturdier interlining. However it still makes the shoes feel like a slipper.

Buckram - is the shit. It's pure shoe making magic. I used it in my 2 most recent attempts at shoes and it makes a world of difference to how the shoe feels. On the blue/green fabric shoe I showed a picture of above I used buckram throughout the shoe which I wet down to mould it over the last. I used fabric stiffener on the toe and I made a dedicated counter from 3 layers of buckram with fabric stiffener slathered over them. This, however, wasn't enough. The most recent shoe I made from bright blue pleather had 1 layer of buckram right round the shoe and a second layer just over the toe. I slathered every bit of buckram with the fabric stiffener and it made a huge difference. The toe area of this most recent shoe actually feels like a shoe - huzzah! Whereas the rest of it feels like a slipper. Next time I will have 2 layers of buckram coated in fabric stiffener right round the shoe and 1 extra layer at the heel to act as a counter and I'm pretty sure they're going to feel like shoes. Shoes that feel like shoes? Shut. up.

Rubber Sole Sheeting
The first 3 pairs of shoes I made had leather soles. They weren't sturdy enough, they didn't feel right and they're much too porous to be worn around very long. I'd researched rubber sole sheeting but hadn't managed to find an Australian supplier. Scrap that. I hadn't managed to find an Australian Supplier who had a website that I could easily order from. I did, however, find a company in Sydney with a website that had a catalogue. I called through to ask for the guy's opinion on rubber soling but he told me he had 200 types and he couldn't possibly know what I was after so I would have to come in. I took the opportunity of having a week of to have an excursion from the Blue Mountains to Banksmeadow. It was rainy and cold and boy was it a long way but totally worth it. I walked the last little bit in very light rain and rocked up to a factory in the middle of an industrial estate wearing a pair of ballet flats so I could take one off and point at the rubber soling should everything go horribly wrong. Turns out the owner and his team were awesome and let me walk through and feel the sheeting for myself and talk me through my options. He also learnt that I had walked in the rain which he found unacceptable so after paying for my sheeting he made me sit in a chair while we got to know each other. He told me I must be proud to be making shoes myself. I must be. In the thirty years he's run the business he's never had someone walk in off the street asking for soling because they were making shoes for a hobby. Fifteen minutes later he was driving me to the nearest Westfield which had frequent buses, all the while explaining the incredible importance of Elvis Presley's lyrics. And that, dear readers, is how I came to buy rubber sole sheeting.

So the important bit to tell you is that it's Topy sheeting which is about 3mm thick and comes in a sheet that I would say is about 100cmx60cm. They were $50 each and I can get a hell of a lot of shoes out of this. This is going to take my shoemaking to the next level. Like, hopefully a wearable level.

Fabric vs Leather/Pleather

The fact that I've been flitting back and forth between the two hasn't really been helping. I know that Leather/pleather doesn't need as much structure as does fabric but I'm still working out the perfect ingredients for both types of shoe. More to learn.

The Pattern

I had a lot of fun playing around with my lasts and creating a shape that was much more like my foot in the hope that I could make shoes that fit my wide feet. This required making a new pattern which I feel was pretty successful. Not perfect whatsoever but better for my feet than a standard pattern. However I'm finding that having this pattern I made for myself is making this all a little murkier and harder to assess whether it's the materials, pattern or process. So I've decided to do away with what I've created and go back to basics. More on that later.

I've also found that even when I've managed to make the shoes a little stiffer and sturdier they're still way too loose on the sides of my feet. I think this might come back to my pattern. I also think it might have something to do with a pattern that has the seam down the arch of the foot rather than down the heel of the foot. I'd like to experiment with making a pattern that has a seam down the heel. That way I can shape the seam more to hug my heel and therefore draw in the sides of the shoe. Without having much idea what I'm doing I feel like the line around the top of the shoe needs to be every so slightly shorter than it should be. This way when I put my foot in my heel and toe are drawing the shoe to opposite ends which will pull the sides a bit tighter. Minutely so but perhaps enough to create a bit of tension so the shoe hugs my foot rather than casually sitting up against it.

The Process

I've now learnt and applied two different methods of shoe making and then mashed them together. However this is not the only way to know how to make shoes. It only very recently occurred to me that most of the time I've been sewing I've been referring to the internet. While I couldn't find a lot on shoemaking when I first started I've since discovered a ton of great videos on youtube that give a lot of insight into how to make shoes in a big fancy factory and how to make them in your home. I've been delving through youtube and watching everything I can to absorb whatever people are freely sharing on the internet. I've also found a place that does shoe making classes online that I might sign up for if I find their method to be helpful. Membership lasts for 2-3 months though so I'd have to make sure I had a period of time to dedicate to all things shoes and not get distracted by sewing or fabric. mmmm fabric.

Learning from the Internet 

If you're interested in following along with making shoes or just want to see some great videos then head over to my new youtube account. So far I've watched just about every video from Sveta Kletina as her videos are super helpful. She's the one that runs the online sewing school over at shoemaking courses online. I've started following her process just today and I plan to make a bunch of patterns and muslin them to test things out before attempting any more shoes. This means pulling the modelling clay off my lasts and working from a standard size 39 to get used to pattern making before making any wide footed mods.

I've found the London College of Fashion videos really helpful as well but they're very geared towards people in fancy shoe making factories whereas Sveta is very geared towards someone like me at home.

All in all I'm having a lot of fun learning to make shoes. The excitement in my sewing room is palpable whenever I'm working on something that vaguely looks like a shoe. I know you might think I'm mad floundering around like this but it's been so fun. I know I have a lot to learn and that excites me. So stick around as I'm sure there'll be many more posts just like this as I narrow down the perfect way to make a shoe at home yourself.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Shoemaking: My second pair of ballet flats, made from following a book

I made shoes that FIT! I discussed in my very first post that I was going to use the kit to the letter for my first pair of shoes and the book to the letter for the second pair. As it happens my second pair turned out to be a bit of a hybrid between the two options which I'll explain further on. These shoes are not perfect and there are a bunch of things I'll change when I make my third pair but they are definitely wearable!

Last time I made a pair of shoes I was working from a kit so this time I've made a handy dandy table for you so you know what I used.

Following the book

I loved following this book so much. You can tell it's written by someone who has made a lot of pairs of shoes and has ironed out all the kinks in their steps and procedures. She provides a template for a shoe pattern or you can cut open a shoe of your own to make one. Since I had already based my customised pattern on the free template from I stuck with that. It did mean I varied a couple of things which I'll talk about below.

It starts by having you make slightly graded patterns so that each layer in the shoe is stepped off from the next to reduce bulk at the seams. Once you sew it all together you understitch everything but the outer fabric. I trimmed and pressed my seams to reduce any further bulk and then topstitched and pressed again. Unfortunately, because I was changing her suggested process, I hadn't thought through what order to do this all in so I topstitched before I sewed the side seam. It means the seam isn't lying flat which is unfortunate but it's not too noticeable.

I do love the way the side seam is sewn though. It took me a long time to pin this meticulously and I still didn't get it right. Millimetres really matter in shoemaking. I suggest you spend some time on this seam (with a seam ripper handy) to get it right.

Once all the sewing is over you end up with these weird looking things. This means it's time for some shaping which, when you make them this way, only involves fabric stiffener.

The crinoline and interlining over the toe get fabric stiffener rubbed in to them to give the rounded toe more shape and rigidity. She includes instructions in the book for making your own counters (the part that gives the heel shape). I really wanted to try this as an alternative to having to source them and since it's only layers of crinoline with fabric stiffener rubbed in I was curious to see how well it would work out.

I'm really pleased with the counters. They were messy and fiddly and time consuming to make but they really work. They have the right amount of rigidity with just enough flexibility for your heel to move as you walk in them. They probably took me about 2-2.5 hours to make out of about a 12 hour shoe making process so comparatively they're the biggest and longest step in making the shoes but I really think it's worth it. Also I should mention I drastically reduced the amount of time it should have taken to make these by using my hairdryer to dry each layer as I was working on them. If you had to wait for them to air dry properly between layers you would have to do them over a couple of days which wouldn't be worth it. So have your hairdryer handy!

Not following the book

Because I used my own pattern and not the kind of pattern suggested in the book it had some flow on effects for making my shoes and the order I had to do it in. Firstly she is making a pointed toe shoe and I'm making a rounded toe shoe. Her process for shaping the shoe is to wrap the fabric around the last and handsew giant zigzags of thread across the bottom to pull the sides of the fabric really tightly together. I couldn't do this because there was no way for me to work the fabric around the rounded toe. She also does all this, pops the fabric off the last, attaches the insole, snips off the excess fabric around her pointed toe and glues the sole on. I didn't do that either. I glued it all together just like I did for the first pair I made.

One thing I tried to follow from her book was the insertion of the counter. She has you put the counter over the last between the lining and the interlining. As I said before she then goes about hand sewing these layers tight around the last. I decided to glue my pieces together so I could still get a nice rounded toe shape so I wasn't sure how to deal with this counter. I ended up inserting it where she suggested but then gluing every other layer around it onto the bottom of the insole as I did with my last pair of shoes. With each layer I was pulling, gluing it down, turning my last over to check the positioning and pressing it into place as the glue dried. What I didn't know until right at the end when I popped the shoe off the last was that the lining was really loose and hadn't been pulled into shape very much because I was trying to keep the counter in place. It's only a slight change of steps but next time I will most definitely pull my lining into place over the last, glue it down, check it meticulously and press it into place as the glue dries before I even touch the counter. This will eliminate this problem altogether.

The dart was tricky when trying to follow this process. There are a lot of layers and I was hesitant to sew the dart in the lining and sew the dart in all of the other layers together. I remembered from using the kit that while it helped shape the heel it ended up getting cut off anyway. I made the decision to cut the dart out literally. I cut that triangle out and then just glued each layer down separately and all was fine. I'm really glad I did it this way because it's not actually necessary to have that dart.

What I would change for next time
 As I said before these shoes are definitely wearable but they do feel a little soft and fragile so I'll be wearing them with care. Like on non-rainy days.

The Toe
The fabric stiffener on the toe area was good but it's not enough. The toe doesn't feel as firm as it should. I think I'll add a second layer of crinoline for the toe area and use fabric stiffener on them separately, much like with making the counter. It wouldn't need much more than this for a bit of rigidity and shape.

The sides of the shoe
The side of the shoe have no shaping whatsoever. It's just a couple of layers of fabric pulled tight around the last and, in the end, your foot. This is too flimsy, soft and prone to crinkle. I think I'll use fabric stiffener on one layer all the way around the shoe next time so the fabric holds it's shape on the sides.

The insole
When I used the kit I hated how inflexible the texon board was to walk on. This book suggests you use really sturdy and thick cardboard. I used the thickest cardboard I had onhand from a lightly corrugated box but it's just a bit too flexible. I'd like to find a heavyweight, flat cardboard to use next time. I may even glue a couple of layers together until it feels strong enough.

All in all they're a bit too lightweight and flimsy so I feel a little protective of them. I'll still wear them out and I'm contemplating keeping a little journal on the shoes I make so I can monitor how many hours I wear them, how the sole wears, how the fabric wears and how long I get out of them so I can narrow down the best process and materials over time.

What I love about these shoes

The pattern I made worked a treat! As you can see below my wide feet now actually fit in shoes. I think I might shave a half a centimetre off the sides of my pattern so it's not as high there but I'm stoked that these are the best fit I've ever had on my feet.

I nailed the insole shape. It's perfect.

I made SHOES that FIT!!

As you can tell from these posts I'm on a very steep learning curve. I'm finding out what works best for me and the kind of shoes I want to make. I will eventually put a detailed tutorial up on my favourite process incorporating all the tips I've learnt the hard way so that you can follow along if you want to get into shoemaking. Since I'm still figuring that out you'll have to just follow along my ramblings for now.

I haven't forgotten about making some sandals and I haven't forgotten about sewing either!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Shoemaking: The verdict on the first pair of ballet flats

If you've been following along since the beginning you would have seen me making a plan on how to startcustomising my shoe last, making a pattern to fit my customised shoe lasts and finally a post full of pictures of my first ballet flats. It's already been quite a learning curve and it's really exciting to be learning so much and acquiring a new skill!

I started this pair of shoes Monday night and I was finished them by Tuesday night. I estimate that I spent around 12 hours making them which makes them sound super quick compared to some of the things I've sewn! Don't be fooled though, shoemaking is hard work!

Seeing as I have so much to say let's talk through the positives, followed by the negatives and then round it up with my plan for my second pair now that I'm learning a bit about my preferences in shoe making.

The Good

The Kit
The kit from is fantastic. I've said it before and I'll say it again. It's a very clear, easy, step-by-step venture into making a great looking pair of ballet flats. The website has two different patterns for ballet flats. One with the rounded toe like I used called the classic ballet pump and another called the high front ballet pump, for obvious reasons. The booklet that shows you through every step is basically a sew along all put together in one continuous book. It has big, bright, easy to follow photographs and basic step by step instructions with a few hints and pointers thrown in so you feel like you know what you're doing. Even though it's really easy to follow I recommend reading through the book a number of times before starting. Get out all your included pieces and get familiar with the materials, what you're meant to do with them and in what order.

Using Leather
This kit is well thought through in that it asks you to make shoes out of leather. First of all if you're going to go to the effort of making your own shoes and spending a bunch of money on a kit, it's a great idea to make your shoes special by making them out of leather.

Secondly it's a brilliant choice for the method they teach you. You may have noticed from the photos that the outer fabric is turned over 5mm and glued down to itself to create a smooth line around the foot. The lining however, extends that 5mm out until right at the end of making the shoe where you drag a blade around the line at an angle and cut it clean off. This would not be achievable without leather (or suede) and would require stitching and under stitching. Not having to sew much makes this kit all the more accessible for anyone to pick it up and make a great pair of shoes without a lot of technical knowhow.

The final product
If you were to follow this kit to the letter using standard lasts and the templates on the website you would absolutely end up with beautiful looking, wearable shoes. Unfortunately I'm a bit ambitious so of course I had to go and change the shape of my last and of course I had to go and make a whole new pattern and of course I had to change the shape of the insole. You are probably not me. Which means you're going to make great shoes if you use this kit.

Where I went right
The modelling clay I masking taped to my lasts worked a treat. I was not even thinking about whether it was squishing in all the right or wrong ways during the making of the shoes. The fact that I didn't think about it until I pulled the last out of the shoe (out of sight out of mind) means it was all fine and dandy. Fabulous.

My new pattern turned out great! I made a muslin out of faux leather so it would have a similar hand to the leather. I basically lined up my marking for the dart over the centre of the heel and cut a dart with the same width of the pattern, sewed it up and it worked fine. Also the dart is a funny thing. It helps shape the fabric around the heel so that when you pull on the fabric to glue it to the insole it makes the whole thing easier. It's worth it just for that. However as soon as the fabric touched the insole I realised I'd have to cut the entire dart away anyway (along with tons of fabric that gets pleated and then cut out.) So I didn't need to fuss so much about the positioning or the grain line of the fabric or any of that nonsense. The fabric tells you what it wants to do and you just trust that.

The Bad

During the making of these shoes I questioned some of the things included in the kit and the process. Now I'm sure this has all been chosen for a reason and I'm sure the kits are mostly designed for students actually attending classes so they get all the added value of having a teacher there to talk them through at difficult moments so my opinion could be a little skewed seeing as I'm on the other side of the world locked in my sewing room staring down a kit. But this blog is about my opinion so I'm going to give it to you anyway.

The (lack of) sewing
I don't love that the outer fabric and the lining aren't stitched together. I knew this before I made the kit and I'm pretty sure this would only bother someone who sews (meaning everybody who reads this blog.) The consolation here is that since the shoe is made of leather you don't really have to but I'm pretty sure the next time I make shoes from leather I'm going to stitch and under stitch my pieces together. Most of this opinion is based on this side seam you see below - so bulky! Imagine if you had sewn these pieces together, cut away the excess to reduce bulk on the inside and flattened the seams properly before making the rest of the shoe? Not to mention the bulk wouldn't be visible on the outside of the shoe it would only be thicker looking from the outside. This would be better for me. It would not be better for anyone who doesn't sew because that would make the process more difficult and the kit much harder to work out for a non-sewing beginner but hey, it's how I feel.

So while we're already here let's talk about that side seam. You're meant to fold over 5mm on either end of your pattern piece and glue it to itself. Then you overlap these pieces and top stitch them down. So what you have here is 4 layers of leather to sew through which is already difficult but then because you're top stitching you kind of want your stitches to look good because it's the only visible seam. Trust me when I say my stitches don't look good on this seam. I hand cranked this entire seam and it was still wonky and uneven. Maybe this would be better done in a class so the teacher can help?

Reducing Bulk
One thing the kit didn't suggest to do was reduce bulk. I'm such a huge fan of pressing during sewing now that I couldn't let that go. I got out my hammer and bashed the leather until it laid as flat as possible. Perhaps they have you do this in the class but it wasn't mentioned in the book.

I'm back on the side seam again. Have a look at that photo again and tell me it doesn't make you cringe seeing that sole have to curve around all that bulk. Luckily you can't feel any of this as you walk but I feel like there's a better way.

The Insole
The provided texone board feels really stiff compared to every shoe I've owned. Potentially this is because I only ever buy cheap shoes. Whatever the case I'll be hunting down a material that is a tiny bit more flexible than this for my insoles.

Where I went wrong
This bit's painful to talk about peeps. I mucked up the insole and it affected everything about the shoe. I can't believe I managed to reshape a last, create a freaking pattern with no pattern making knowledge and then managed to stuff up the entire shoe just because of the insole. I'm kicking myself. I really am. (Kicking myself - ha! Because of shoes - ha! geddit?)

So let's talk about the insole. Because you're not me you would be using a standard insole template which they kindly provide on the website. I however made up my own. My theory was sound. My practise was not. Along the way of doing all my adjustments you'll remember I traced around my foot with a pencil, then I went around this line in sharpie so it would be easier to see and use. Then I stuck it to the bottom of my last and filled out my last with modelling clay. I didn't want to mess with the toe because I liked the shape of it so I left that alone. I traced the new shape with pencil so I would have a new "me" shaped insole. I covered the pencil line in sharpie line laid it over the texone board and traced around that sharpie line. Finally I covered the whole thing in leather.

You may see where I'm going with this. That pencil line (which I drew straight down and not on a slight angle to compensate for the width of the pencil) would have already been skewed very minutely. Then I add a thicker line from the sharpie which added to the width minutely. Then I cut around it (again straight down and not on a slight angle) which added width minutely. Then I covered it in leather which added width minutely. All of this only really adds up to about 5-6mm but let me tell you it's the difference between well fitting shoes and clown feet. Seriously.

I know all this because I left the toe shape the same as the last and there's still 5-6mm too much insole going on around the toes. Cringe.

Notice first how the extra 5mm all around makes the shoe huge.
Then notice that my pattern got a lot more of my foot in my shoe.

And so here's where things get honest. The shoes actually look horrible on my feet and I'm not going to wear them. They are the most expensive pair of shoes I now own and I can't wear them. To be fair though I think you learn more rapidly with shoemaking as there is so little fitting to worry about so I'm equating this one shoe with like 1-2 years of my sewing curve (remember the beginning where nothing ever fitted?) and somehow the amount of fails and fabric I had to throw out/donate would make these shoes pale in comparison. So there's that.

The Cost
Looking back on my original post on materials I work out the cost of the kit, booklet and shipping to be about $120 Australian. I used half a leather hide I bought from The Fabric Store which is around $40. This means all up these shoes cost around $160. This would totally be worth it if they fit.

Looking forward and making a plan
This always helps right? You rise from the ashes only by reflecting, setting new goals and going out and proving you are actually good at things even after you've failed? I do.

I am going to research the shit out my insoles. I'm going to draw and redraw and muslin those things until I have the best damn insoles the world has ever seen. Yeah.

I'm sticking to my original plan too in that I'll put all this kit stuff aside and follow along with the book. I'm really, really looking forward to it because firstly it's way cheaper and secondly I get to sew and have a professional finish which is obviously going to make me feel better about my shoes and myself.

Also I'm super keen to make sandals! They look incredibly easy. These shoes took 12 hours to make but I'm pretty sure you could make sandals in maybe around 2 hours or less? Also I'm pretty sure even with all leather materials plus clasps/snaps/thread etc, they're not going to cost more than about $25-$30. The good news for you is that you don't need shoe lasts to make sandals. All you need is your materials, your foot, good shoe glue and you're off and away! I hope that some of you may join me in making sandals once I get my materials sorted, make them and blog them.

I'll be back to sewing for the next couple of weeks until I gather materials and get ready for my next pair of shoes. This process has only made me more excited and determined to succeed.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Shoemaking: My first pair of ballet flats made with a kit


The good news is the kit was awesome and I'm so proud of how the final shoes look. My pattern was also a winner and covered up my wide feet nicely.

The bad news is I stuffed up the size of the insole which is one of the first steps and affects every single other step and hence the final fit of the shoes. I have too much to say about the whole process to just have one blog post on it so I've decided that this post will show you all the pretty pictures of the process.

Since I followed the kit to the letter I'm not providing any commentary on the below pictures. If you're curious about making you're own shoes I highly recommend buying it and you can use the below pictures for reference.

I'll write another post which will go into detail about the process. I'll explain what I did wrong with the insole, what I loved about the kit and what I might change next time I make ballet flats. For now enjoy the pictures!