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My day on set

23 April 2014, 13:09

I wrote this post back in October, but couldn’t talk about it until now!

I got a call on my mobile and in less than two hours I found myself on the set for The Great British Sewing Bee, rifling through the on-screen sewing supplies and marveling at the endless array of haberdashery available to the contestants! The next day I was whisked off for an emergency manicure, and before I knew it, I was demonstrating sewing techniques in front of two cameras under the bright lights on set!

Now, before you jump to any conclusions, no, I was not a contestant! (I did apply again this year, but my Mexican holiday fell right over their filming dates, and since starting my pattern business, I’m ineligible now anyway). I stepped in at short notice to help the production team with some extra “how-to” videos they film for BBC Learning, to teach people how to sew projects that relate to the challenges made in the show. Kinda like saying “You know that cool thing that you just saw a contestant make? Well, look how simple it is to make something similar!”

For this, they needed someone who could sew (obviously!), write sewing instructions which could then be translated into cues for the cameramen, editors, and voice over artists, and also perform well in front of the cameras. And those three things are pretty much what I excel at and enjoy doing, so it was a massively enjoyable day for me!

One thing that surprised me though, is that I never quite realised how fast I talk, nor how fast I sew! The first 20 minutes were an exercise in s-l-o-w-i-n-g everything down to half-speed so that the poor cameramen could re-focus onto the next object I was reaching for, or to tell them in advance “ok, I’m going to pin these together starting from my right” so they’d know where to point their lenses. I did the demonstrations on set in the Sewing Room (there’s also a Haberdashery on set, which is where the lovely Ellie was filming her demonstrations at the same time), using the same sewing station, cutting table, and pressing station that the contestants use. We were filming right before the final episode was due to take place, so I even got to see some of the winning garments up close, and they were every bit as good as I’d expect from the finalists!

It was also really fun to see the wonderland of fabrics and supplies provided on set – the tools were all of really high quality, and even I got to use some gadgets I’d been introduced to before, like the Flexicurve ruler, and a magnetic pin tray (the latter is totally going on my WishList!). We got to sew on nice (but basic – on purpose!) Janome machines, and I was tickled to see they used the same Bernina 800DL overlockers that I have at home, too. The set had the full range of Gutermann threads, more ribbons, bias tape, and trims than you could imagine, and a full stock of zippers at their disposal, too. And that’s not even talking about the rolls of high quality fabric piled everywhere!!

After a full day filming my three demonstrations (the boys shorts, peplum remake, and bow tie), I even got to witness a bit of classic GBSB tv magic – what the crew called the “beauty shots”, where the garment slowly spins around for the cameras! I’m not used to seeing something I sewed slowly spinning on a posh dressform with lots of lights and cameras focused on it!

In case you doubt that the nicely manicured hands in the videos are mine (I was asked to remove my rings and Fuel Band, after all!), I made sure to wear entirely FehrTrade clothing – my blue neopreney travel skirt, a black silk jersey top (which I never quite got around to blogging), and underneath it all, my turquoise lingerie set. So go and have a look at the videos and think to yourself, “I know those hands!”.

Go watch my BBC How To videos – You don’t need to be in the UK!

Has anyone applied for Series 3, or for the American pilot yet?


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Manequim magazine March 2014

22 April 2014, 12:55

I’m often inspired by styles in Manequim magazine, even if I don’t actually sew that many, and I particularly love the Fall and Spring issues which tend to overlap a bit more with the seasons we have in the UK. Brazil is entering Fall now but the same styles are super wearable for English Spring, too.

The celebrity style section (which is usually occupied by Brazilian soap stars I’ve never heard of) is this month all featuring stylish women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. I really like the flowy faux-wrap dress Meryl Streep is wearing on the left, and it just happens to be in my size, too.

The Plus patterns this month are all blouses, and I think the pale yellow one is a particularly interesting design since it uses a twist in an outer layer, almost creating a twinset effect with the inner layer.

The designer style section is based on Alberta Ferretti’s designs, and these slim trousers and silk blouse are both provided in several sizes and would both make really great wardrobe basics. They also look especially good for testing out the fit if you’re new to Manequim, too.

I’m not entirely certain the peplum trend has got much life left in it, but I really like the colour blocking and minimalist style of this dress. For me, the peplum could easily be left off, and a block of colour added at the waist instead in the form of a waistband and you’d still get the same overall effect.

This is one of those instances where I keep looking back and forth between the photo and the tech drawing, trying to add up the two in my head! The photo looks like basic, cropped, crepe trousers, but the tech drawing looks like sweatpants (trekkie bottoms) to me! Surely these would be super comfortable, right?

Heart be still! One of the features this month shows a different pattern for each of a bunch of famous designers! The Diane von Furstenberg pattern is (of course!) a wrap dress, and a really nice looking one, at that – the tabbed sleeves and crossover are great details.

I don’t think I’ll ever fully be on Team Jumpsuit, but if there was going to be one to tempt me over the edge, it’d be this Valentino-inspired one with shoulder flounce. Gorgeous! Classy! Timeless!

And finally, in a section all about jackets (and what to wear with them), I think this shawl-collar blazer in a monochrome print is super stylish and very modern, too. The monochrome dress is also pretty interesting, and I like that the bib/apron effect carries through to the back, too.

I found a lot to like in this issue, but is it bad that I’m already counting down the issues to the Oscar gown special already (usually in May)??

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Dozens of Duathlons!

21 April 2014, 15:29

I’m not entirely sure where the time went since my birthday and the release of my latest Duathlon shorts pattern (oh yeah, I ran that marathon thing…), but the internet has simply exploded with amazing finished versions of the Duathlon Shorts and capris in only a few short weeks.

If you’re looking for inspiration to sew up your own activewear or join in the Spring Race Challenge (open through 4th July weekend now!), then settle on in…

Kathy’s capris

Kathy’s one of my pattern testers so she had a bit of a head start on the rest of you, but she liked the pattern so much she went on to make two versions of the capris, both with really nice contrasting fabric choices:

Kathy also shows how to alter the pattern to increase the back crotch length, which can be really useful if you’re a visual learner like me! One thing to note though is that Kathy’s showing the test version of the pattern – in the final version the little bump is smoothed out and I’ve added 2cm to the upper back to account for the seated posture of cyclists. Otherwise the fit should be exactly the same as my PB Jam Leggings, so if you made fit alterations to those, you can confidently do the same to these!

Kathy also turned a mistake into a great design feature – if you flip the upper side panel to the inside, you can have a pocket that opens against your body for extra security! She has one opening out for easy access, and one opening in for stuff like keys and ID.

Katherine’s bikers & gathered-side swimmers

Katherine’s another one of my pattern testers, so her first biker shorts pair are pretty much straight off the pattern to test for me (though I really like having the top side panel be the only contrast!), but then for her second pair, she’s gone and done one of the most exciting adaptations ever!!

She’s taken the booty short length, but shortened the side panel and gathered the front and back to match – making the panel stand out just by the texture change! She’s also completely lined these and made them in chlorine-resistant lycra so she can swim in them. Omg, do I now have to change the name to Triathlon Shorts??

Sandra’s sunny capris

I love that by total coincidence, Sandra has made the inverse of Katherine’s colourblocking on her capris! You can really see how the whole look changes when you change the colours of the three main sections.

Sandra makes some great points about the pocket in her post, too – when I was designing these I tried to adopt a “cycle first” mentality, and the pocket illustrates this perfectly. Instead of placing the pocket anywhere along the side seam, I sat down, saw where the crease of my leg was, and made sure the pocket didn’t cover this area – if it had, the contents would dig into your legs every time you pedaled! So it may feel a little low if you’re not cycling, but it’ll make sense when you sit down.

I also designed the pocket to be a few centimeters narrower than the iPhone 5 (my standard “phone” I draft around), so that the stretch of the fabric keeps it securely in the pocket. Since there’s no closure on the pocket and your legs are constantly moving, it needs to be super secure.

Make sure to read the rest of Sandra’s post because she took the concept of the integrated pocket and applied it to a long sleeved merino workout top, putting a pocket into the upper sleeve! How genius is that

Karen’s cycling booty shorts

I hope Karen doesn’t mind me saying this, but I am utterly in her debt for the amazing feedback she gave me during the development of the Duathlon Shorts pattern. As part of an entire family of avid cyclists, she was able to tell me exactly where my pattern was lacking in comparison to RTW cycling shorts, and how the differences were manifest in terms of patternmaking. She’s the one responsible for convincing me there needed to be extra Centre Back length to accomodate the seated position, for starters!

The booty short version above is modeled by her daughter (nice touch with the sportive number still attached!), but she went on to make a biker short pair for herself despite needing a fair few fit adjustments. But as she admits that one’s still a work-in-progress, I’ll let you to click through to see that version!

Suzy’s galaxy biker shorts

I was so excited when I saw Suzy’s version come through my email! I’ve always felt strongly about releasing my patterns in as many sizes as possible, and I know how hard it can be to find nice RTW sportswear in Plus sizes.

Suzy’s pair are so freaking stylish (How much do I love that galaxy lycra?!), and show that you can look great working out no matter what your size! She also very wisely basted the seams on her first version – if you don’t have the time or fabric to muslin a pair, this is a great idea as I’m hearing over and and over that most people need a few tweaks in the first pair, but the second are perfect. Basting means you can can try on, adjust, and get perfect in your first pair. Clever, eh?

Maria’s mid-thigh shorts

Maria liked the pattern so much she only went and made four pairs of it in varying colours!

She chose to make hers “mid thigh” length, so somewhere between the biker and booty short lengths. This raises a great point, because when I was developing the pattern, I thought about what lengths people might go for, and then just drew the lines there. But there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from drawing the hem lines where you prefer them to be! You can even use the marked hem lengths as a guide, and add or subtract from there.

She’s also made her orange print version coordinate with her XYT top by using some of the leftover patterned fabric as the lower side piece! I never like throwing away any scraps of fabric, let alone expensive wicking lycra, so I try to incorporate smaller contrast portions into my patterns so you can do exactly this.

Winnie’s junglesome capris and booty shorts

Winnie is no shrinking violet and has found an opportunity to incorporate more leopard-print lycra into her capri-length Duathlons! Like Maria, this means she’s now got a coordinating set with her leopard XYT top (also seen here).

But she decided to go one further and step out of her comfort zone to try the booty short length, too. She makes an important distinction that “booty” is not the same as “boy shorts” – these have a little bit of inseam (unlike those running briefs the elites wear!), but they are quite short. I’ve got some tips on keeping the short hems in place later this week, too… Frankly, I think Winnie’s got the legs to pull them off – we just need another hot summer here in the UK and she’ll be tearing up the Bath hills in them!


There are also a few other Duathlon versions posted on Pattern Review that don’t have blogs to link to, including one which cleverly flips the side panel upside down so the pocket can be used for tennis ball storage!!

Since there were a few versions of my XYT Workout Tops and PB Jam Leggings patterns posted since I shared my last roundup, I thought it’d be fun to show these off, too, since we’re getting all inspired!

Louise’s PB Jam Capris

Louise loved the design of the PB Jams, but wanted to alter them to compliment her petite frame, so to make her pair, she taped all the pieces together to maintain the swirls, made her adjustments, smoothed out the curves, and separated the pieces out again.

What she’s left with is a great pair of workout capris that look utterly fantastic on her – nothing’s too big, nothing’s too small – she got the proportions exactly right! And I think I agree with her when she says that the capri length suits her height much better than the full length. She also gives some great hints about basting and marking changes, so if you want a primer on alterations, be sure to read her post.

Gwen’s Cupid PB Jams & turquoise X-Back top

I love that when Gwen first saw my PB Jam pattern, all she could see was hot pink and red – and instantly wanted to make a totally bright “Cupid” pair! And when the first pink lycra was err, a bit on the Lululemon-see-through side of things, she didn’t let that stop her, and she replaced the fabric with another.

She also caught the workout sewing bug and made a turquoise X-back version of my XYT Workout Top to match with a pair of Kwik Sew leggings (that oddly could be the sister to Kathy’s Duathlon shorts seen at the top of this post!).

Her posts are really well worth a read as she has had some fitting issues with both, and talking through what problems she had, the advice she got, and ways to fix them is really helpful to understand the why of fit issues. Working with stretch fabrics can sometimes be easier to fit, but being able to read the pulling lines in jerseys is a different aspect of the art of “reading wrinkles” when it comes to fitting wovens!

Mel’s Quartet of XYTs

And finally, I feel awful because I totally missed out on Melinda’s four different versions of my XYT Tops when I did my previous roundup. Four of them!!

She’s incorporated so many high-end finishes into her tops – on one she’s used Swarovski hot-fix crystals for a total bling look, on another she’s used reflective tape as an accent on the sides as well as the upper T-back, and two fantastic prints that wouldn’t be out of place in a little boutique. She’s also detailed her alterations, too, and shows photos of her trail running in them, also, so you know they’ve been put through their paces!

Fancy making your own? Go to my Shop section or head straight to Etsy below…




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Post Marathon Thank You

17 April 2014, 14:29

Thank you all so, so much for your well wishes, support, and donations for Sunday’s London Marathon!

If you’re interested in my full race report, please head over to my RiverRunner site, but the short version is that it was super tough in the hot sun, but I managed to finish in 3:30:37, which is a new PB for me, an automatic Good For Age place in next year’s race, and a Boston Qualifier as well!

My rainbow Duathlon Shorts were the perfect choice, too – super comfortable with no tugging or chafing whatsoever, and the pockets were big enough for me to cram in four gels and a pack of Shot Bloks and not have them bouncing around everywhere.

I’ve got a crazy backlogue of posts, but I’ve been super busy working full days on an outside project for the past few weeks, plus the marathon, plus now I’ve got the typical post-marathon cold, so I’m going to try to rest and recover over the long Easter weekend and hopefully get caught up!

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12 April 2014, 14:13

Tomorrow I run the London Marathon.

(Actually, I’m way more excited than that sounds. Add in a “Weeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!”)

I will be running in my newest Duathlon shorts, so I’ll be sure to share some photos of myself in them for the Spring Race Challenge! Remember that if you’re entering the prize draw, you need to link to your photo in the comments of that post – I’ve seen some great photos already but they need to be added there so I don’t lose any.

If you’d like to track me during the race tomorrow (it starts at 10am BST), I’ve detailed three different ways you can do so over on my Riverrunner site. I’ll especially need comments after 2.5 hours in, so that’s about 12:30ish local time (or 7:30 EDT).

Remember that tomorrow is also the last day to take advantage of the “VMLM14” code to get 10% off my exercise sewing patterns, so if you’re dawdling, go grab them now!

I also owe you a massive roundup of all the amazing Duathlon Shorts I’ve seen over the past few weeks, but I’ve got to focus on tomorrow first! My past 6 months have been focused on tomorrow…

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The Bunka-esque asymmetric Burda top

10 April 2014, 17:31

This might be the quickest turnaround for a pattern I’ve made in ages, but last weekend I put together the weird, conceptual “tube” tee from the April 2014 Burda magazine (I’m so current!!) and some splatter-print viscose lycra jersey I bought at Hancocks when I was visiting my folks in Virginia in November. Or it’s up on the US Burdastyle already should you wish to buy the pdf.

The pattern itself is rather avant-garde – it’s really just one big rectangle! On the right-hand side (as worn) there’s a side seam and a pretty normal, set-in sleeve. But on the left it’s just a fold instead of a side seam and a horizontal slit is cut in, where a sleeve with the sleeve cap chopped off (no, really!) is set into that. The neckline is just the top of the rectangle and is only an inch or two narrower than the hem!

I wasn’t so sure that the weird left sleeve would actually be comfortable, but it really is! I don’t even notice it when I’m wearing it, and it doesn’t really look strange when worn, either.

The body feels super voluminous and quite long to me – I’m tempted to narrow it and the cowl neck as well. I made a Burda size 40 which should be true to my new measurements, but everything is super wide – I’d definitely consider going down a size in the rectangle, but keeping the sleeves at your true size.

The cowl also stays in place fairly well – it doesn’t fall off my left shoulder at all like the magazine photo might suggest, and you can actually drape it up over your head like a hood or fashionable head scarf!

The instructions for this were just stupid, though – they have you set in the normal, right sleeve instead of sewing it in flat, and then have you sew French seams on the shoulder and cowl neck seam, which is just totally pointless! I just overlocked it, and you can’t see it for all the fabric folds anyway.

All in all, it’s a great top (tunic?) to wear with leggings that feels super comfortable but is a bit more edgy than your average teeshirt. Considering that it’s only two pattern pieces and three seams, it’s also super quick to sew, too!

(Why “Bunka”? Bunka is the Japanese fashion school that all the conceptual, avant garde designers studied at – think Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, and all the Pattern Magic and Drape Drape books. This really reminds me of their approach to pattern making!)

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The Sherlock coat

8 April 2014, 13:30

Sewing a coat is always a big accomplishment, but this coat in particular has been a long time in the making. I first told James I’d finally make him a coat like Benedict Cumberbatch wears in BBC’s “Sherlock” for his birthday back in early December. I drafted up a pattern using the details provided in this livejournal post, then made a muslin for him later that month. With only a few tweaks needed for fit and style (I made the lapels too big, for starters!), I then moved on to purchasing the wool coating, cotton flannel underlining, and black acetate lining.

But this is also where the first delay came in, as he wanted a black wool coating with faint blue and brown checks from Crescent Trading, who turned out to be closed over the full Christmas period, when I was hoping to get a lot of the work done. All of the above are detailed more
in this “progress report” post from January.

I then had more hurdles involving the hem bubbling (which meant I had to baste it in place, flip it back wrong-side out, handstitch, re-press, etc), waiting for some woman on Etsy to make more replica buttons (which we finally gave up on and just made our own with gold enamel paint), and getting the right upholstery thread to do all the buttonholes.

But it’s finished, it looks fantastic on James, and the proportions are really flattering on him, too! So the lengthy making process shall soon fade away in the light of the finished coat. He definitely prefers it open (as dos Sherlock himself), but it can be buttoned up in the coldest of days, too:

It’s a very warm coat, having underlined the body and sleeves in flannel, a trick I picked up in previous coats to stop the wind.

I can’t take the credit for these, as James was having fun with photoshoot ideas!

Sherlock, or Dr Who? Oh no, we’ve confused British geek heroes! ;)

The coat is one long piece in the front, but the back has a waist seam and a voluminous, pleated skirt which really swishes and moves with him. The belt is attached at the side seams and is really just for looks.

Now, you know James loves a loud lining, but for this coat he thought it’d just be wrong, so instead he chose a simple black lining. The only feature inside is a piece of ribbon to control his headphone cables, which is a feature he requests on all his jackets and coats.

Here are some detail shots: Red keyhole buttonholes (made on my antique Singer with the buttonholer attachment), chest single welt pockets, lined patch pockets, and curved sleeve cuff

I’ve heard the original jacket used in the series had boning added to the collar to make it stand up, but I wanted to give James the option to wear it down if he wanted. So I instead used some really stiff horsehair interfacing which bends easily horizontally, but really wants to stand up vertically. I then stitched it in rows along the undercollar to keep it in place. I’m super happy with this choice, as the collar really stays up on its own without any fuss!

Here are some detail shots: Painted buttons, Upper back pleat, headphone holder in front facing, back belt and pleats

The buttons were regular brown, which we detailed “stitching” onto with gold enamel model airplane paint, so they look like the originals.

And we couldn’t resist some shots with our iconic neighbour!

You should see the jealous looks he’s getting from his friends and from strangers on the street!!

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Duathlon Shorts tip - short on fabric?

4 April 2014, 13:06

The Upper Side piece of my Duathlon Shorts pattern is pretty long – 64cm (25in) long for size XL, to be exact. If you’re using scraps as accents on the sides, you may find a great piece of fabric that’s too short for the piece.

Here’s a tip – because of the way the piece folds to create the pocket, if you position a joining seam anywhere between the top “Top of Pocket” lines, the seam will be hidden inside the pocket construction!

(Just don’t forget to add on seam allowances when you join – or join your fabric first and then cut out the pattern piece!)

Remember there’s still 10% off my sewing patterns if you use code “VMLM14” up through marathon day!

Fancy making your own?


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Digitally printed fabric comparison

3 April 2014, 12:57

I recently placed a small order at Spoonflower for the first time in three years since they now do “performance knit” as a base fabric option! I mostly wanted to see how it compares against other wicking lycras and also FunkiFabrics’ digitally printed (non-wicking) lycra, as it could potentially be a great source of wild running prints for me.

I had stopped ordering from Spoonflower because their international shipping was taking an excessively long amount of time (over a month!!) and getting lost fairly frequently. I also stopped because, at the time, the only knit fabric they had was the organic cotton interlock, which both faded in the first wash and had zero recovery, and was pretty much useless for my purposes. But in the past three years, they’ve added a bunch more knits to their range and sorted out their international shipping, so I tentatively made a small order to try them out again.

I ended up getting three samples and a fat quarter, all in the performance knit (plus a swatch book), and I’m really impressed. Spoonflower’s performance knit is a smooth lycra base with about 40% widthwise stretch and no lengthwise stretch. They print onto white base lycra, and although the weight is thinner than FunkiFabrics’ base lycra (which has four-way stretch), I’d still feel fine using it for actvewear, though you’d want a busy print to distract from any lumps and bumps.

I’m also relieved to report that they’ve sorted out their international shipping – I ordered on 13 March, they shipped it on 17 March, and it arrived on 31 March. Much improved!

Now, the price. I always expect that I’m going to get shafted on shipping fabric from the States (and I’m usually right!), but the shipping on my above order was only $7, which I found wholly reasonable. In fact, I started getting curious so I actually worked out a price comparison for having digitally printed lycra shipped to me in the UK:

Spoonflower: 1 yard “performance knit” ($24) + UK shipping ($7) = $31 (~£18.62)

FunkiFabrics: 1 metre “printed lycra” (£18) + VAT (£4.59) + UK shipping (£4.95) = £27.54 (~$45.77)

So, as depressing as it is, it actually makes economic sense to have my fabric printed halfway around the world and air shipped to me than it does to get it printed locally (well, at least in the same country). This isn’t to say I’ll stop using FunkiFabrics entirely – I think their lycra is of fantastic, hefty quality, great stretch, and a great range of prints, and they tend to print and ship a bit quicker (plus they print onto different coloured base fabrics). But for sheer price comparison, Spoonflower comes out almost a third cheaper, even if you have to gamble with customs fees.

Oh, and I since I had these samples on hand, I realised that you can fit both Lower Side pieces of the Duathlon Shorts (biker short length) nicely into a Spoonflower sample! Bargain!

(I’ve just folded away the top & bottom seam allowances to show it does fit into the printed area!)

At $5 a sample for the performance knit, this could be a really great way of injecting some fancy prints into your shorts that coordinate with your base fabrics!

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Assorted updates

2 April 2014, 13:05

Argh I’ve done that thing again where I get really busy in my sewing cave (and elsewhere!), ignore my laptop altogether, and end up accumulating a full week’s worth of posts that I can’t face writing. This usually bogs me down mentally for a few days until I realise I have to face the laptop at some point, and I work a “computer day” (I much prefer “sewing days”!) to clear the slate.

But a-ha! I gotcha, “internet day”, because I’m going to cram together all the updates I really should write about in one big go. Didn’t see that coming, didja?!? (frollicks off to the sewing cave…)

Birthday gifts

Thank you again so much for all your compliments on my galaxy print birthday dress last week! I’m not sure what I did right, but I ended up getting an awful lot of lovely sewing gifts this year…

Clockwise from upper left: